Talk:Touring prestigious universities in the U.S.

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Revision as of 14:22, 13 May 2009 by CrazyPaco (talk | contribs) (Objective measure for inclusion)
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Is there an intended order within regions? Serving the traveler might mean listing in linear geographical order. Almost seems set up by perceived prestige at this point. OldPine 14:27, 27 May 2007 (EDT)

Is there a standard for famous?

Seems to me that this will soon deteriorate to every university in the US. It already seems to be headed that way. Unless we can come up with a standard. For example, the university has to be an ivy league university, a seven sisters college, on the top ten list of (say) US News and World Report for Engineering (how else would Stanford and MIT make the grade!).--Wandering 17:52, 11 July 2007 (EDT)

My thoughts exactly. OldPine 18:06, 11 July 2007 (EDT)
I say we list the universities in order of how many Nobel Prizes they've garnered... --Peter Talk 18:35, 11 July 2007 (EDT)
Um, no. Famous != "prestigious" or "Ivy". Famous is "widely known", and this could include big sports schools or decently known state schools. Also, major research institutions. 02:35, 20 January 2008 (EST)
It's already degenerating. No mention of Cornell, Dartmouth, or Johns Hopkins on the East Coast, no mention of Caltech on the West Coast, no mention of Vanderbilt in the South, and nothing about Washington University in St. Louis? Huh? Oh, but there is an article on St. Louis University. And an article on Michigan State --- which isn't what I'd call 'famous' in any way. I suppose the problem is in distinguishing "famous" from "academically rigorous" (i.e. top-tier research university). 17:29, 10 September 2007 (EDT)

Objective measure for inclusion

This article should exist, but has been degenerating and will continue to degenerate as long as we lack an objective measure. I've tried my best to come up with an objective measure of university fame, and here's a spreadsheet showing the criteria, scoring, and weighting I used to rank universities by "fame." By necessity, this ranking is a bit complex in order to avoid being arbitrary and unfair.


  1. Nobel affiliations
  2. 07-08 US News Rankings: Top National Universities
  3. 07-08 US News Rankings: Top Liberal Arts Colleges
  4. Size (undergraduate + graduate enrollment)
  5. Age (year established)

I think Nobel affiliations are a good measure of research prestige (really good research --> nobel prizes), rankings a good measure of educational prestige. Size impacts influence and fame obviously, as does age—the older the university, the longer it has had to make itself known, and simply being old can be notable in and of itself.

I weighted the scores by criteria accordingly: 1) research prestige (score: 0-1)x5, 2) educational prestige for national universities (score: 0-1)x5, 3) educational prestige for liberal arts colleges (score: 0-1)x3, 4) size (score: 0-1)x1, 5) age (score: 0-3.64)x1. I figured that research and educational prestige should receive disproportionate weight, since they are the most important measures of fame. I didn't want size to have much weight, because that would lead to not-so-famous schools that happen to have gigantic enrollment (e.g., Arizona State) would be ranked as disproportionately famous. But size should count against the small liberal arts colleges, which are not nearly as famous as their educational prestige might lead one to believe simply because they are so small—I therefore reduced the weight allocated to educational prestige rankings for small liberal arts colleges from 5 to 3, simply to offset the light weight given to size scores. Lastly, I gave a light weight to age, simply because the range was greater than for any other score, allowing it to have noticeable impact without weighting. The precise scoring methods are available through the spreadsheet.

Given the score outputs from this measure, I think an overall score of 5 or better would make a good measure for inclusion in the article. So the cutoff would be at Amherst College. If you don't feel like downloading the xls document, of the universities I measured, the following would be allowable in the article: Harvard, Columbia, University of Chicago, MIT, Yale, Princeton, UC Berkeley, Stanford, U Penn, Cornell, CalTech, Johns Hopkins, Washington University in St Louis, Duke, NYU, U Michigan, Brown, Dartmouth, William & Mary, UNC Chapel Hill, U Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Georgetown, UVA, UCLA, U Wisconsin-Madison, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Rice, Tufts, USC, Williams, Amherst.

I'm curious if anyone a) understands what the heck I'm talking about and b) thinks this is a good way to objectively delimit which universities can be included in this article. I'm also curious if people have any other suggestions for criteria in determining fame. I left out a lot (like endowments) because a lot of criteria are already included in the criteria used by the US News-World Report rankings.

If anyone would like me to run another university through the measure to see if it makes the grade, please just let me know.

Well, should we use this? --Peter Talk 00:18, 8 March 2008 (EST)

I should add, I did not include sports prowess as a criterion, because I think visiting universities for sports-related events is beyond the scope of this article—that seems to me to be something different from "touring famous universities." I think university-sports-travel is a separate topic that could support a separate article. Sports acclaim does affect fame, but I just don't think that is what this article was set up to cover. Moreover, the article already suffers from subject creep, so it won't hurt to make this delimitation. I also did not include the recently added criterion of "massacre infamy," as I seriously doubt that there is any significant "school massacre tourism." --Peter Talk 03:40, 10 March 2008 (EDT)
I ran the last several universities already listed in the article through. Here's a quick list of the ones that passed (score=5+) and those that did not:
5+: Harvard, Columbia, U Chicago, MIT, Yale, Princeton, UC Berkeley, Stanford, U Penn, Duke, NYU, U Michigan, Brown, Dartmouth, UNC Chapel Hill, Georgetown, UVA, Emory, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Rice, & Rutgers
<5: U Delaware, UC San Diego, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, St Louis U, Georgia Institute of Tech, Virginia Tech, UT Austin
I think those results are pretty good, from my own subjective standpoint. So, if there are no reasoned objections to using this measure, I'll remove the schools that scored below 5 from the article in about 2 weeks. --Peter Talk 03:40, 10 March 2008 (EDT)
OK, no one has joined in this academic exercise yet, but I've waited and now plunged to reorganize the article according to the objective measure explained above. If anyone would like to help refine the measure, please let me know here.
I also added a "get around" section in part to condense the unwieldy university descriptions, but also to better organize that content, so visitors have a quick overview of how to visit all the listed schools in one trip. I think that this should basically be a "list of pointers," since university descriptions & landmarks (and detailed get in information) are all already available in their respective city articles, and this info should not be duplicated here. --Peter Talk 09:37, 24 March 2008 (EDT)
Actually, like most rankings, your method has some serious flaws, inherent in the fact that non-objective POV is determining methodology for determining a criteria that is being billed as objective. First of which, your ranking has turned the article from travel guide of "famous" universities, into a ranking of universities. And that ranking is considerably less accepted and less researched than previously existing and widely published ranking methodologies. Notably, neither the article nor ranking take into account any consideration of the value of a visit or tour of the school, which after all, is a main point of a travel wiki, e.g. is there actually anything interesting to see? For example, see [1], but trying to quantify that list has its own inherent issues. However, this criteria could be added, for instance, by adding the number of things on the National Historic Registry (perhaps #NHR/10). After all, how can the value or a visit to a school be measured in terms of student population or even US News ranking? For instance, UVA and William & Mary should be on the list by the criteria of their historic campuses, whether or not they have the academics of the University of Phoenix (which, btw, by your method finishes ahead of Ohio State and Case Western). For that matter, Annapolis and West Point, which both dramatically fail your criteria because of a lack of research and size, should be included in a travel wiki of famous universities. Not including them is almost criminal, and exemplifies the serious flaws in the methodology. That said, what exactly is there to see at NYU (other than NYC in general)? In any case, weighting against Liberal Arts colleges (of which category the service academies fall) seems entirely POV and improper, and is not at all objective reasoning.
As far as the included ranking criteria, being in biological research here at Penn, I can tell you that solely using Nobel prize winners as a measure of research quality is extremely lacking. It is horribly narrow view of research that contains several biases. A better criteria would be publication impact factor, which may be difficult to compile for all of these institutions, or perhaps easier, NSF (federally funded) research dollars that are awarded based on a stringent peer review process (currently ~10% of grant submissions). Federal research award dollars are a major component of how most rankings factor in research prowess (see The Center for Measuring University Performance[2]).
Another issue, for some reason this article seems aimed at foreign visitors, but your criteria uses US-centric, and highly controversial, US News rankings. International world rankings, such as Shanghai Jiao Tong's Univeristy's Academic Ranking of World Universities [3] and US News/The Times Higher-QS World University Rankings [4] seem like better candidates based on how the article's intro is slanted. These give a more global perspective to the fame of US institutions (and include research). Perhaps a compilation of multiple rankings, US News, The Center, Shanghai, is warranted. Rankings are tricky though, as they sometime seem to fluctuate wildly form year-to-year, and as you currently have your criteria configured, moving just a few slots will cause schools to fall in or out of your cut off.
In any case, deciding the cutoff at 5 seems entirely arbitrary. Why not 4, 4.5, or 5.5, or 6. Was 5 just pulled out of thin air? How do you justify such a thing? Fame is subjective, and may not have anything to do with any of the criteria you list. For sure all of the Ivies would be considered famous, but Rutgers is hardly more famous than Ohio State. Fame certainly doesn't seem to have much to do with size. For instance Princeton is tiny and among the most famous universities in the world. Likewise the best-known (dare I say famous) very large schools, Ohio State, Texas, and Penn State all fail to make the cut by your criteria. So the answer, IMO, is that size really doesn't matter, and that is why you don't find size criteria in any existing rankings. Age is also meaningless for fame, as well as academics, but may make a university more interesting from a historical perspective, so I tend to buy that a little more for a travel wiki. For a domestic tourist, athletics has an immense impact on school fame, and there is no getting around this. Athletics in the US are the most prominent face of any institution outside the Ivy League. Every BCS school should get bonus points, with bowl participants and NCAA tournament participants getting points as well. There seems to be a lack of common sense in the criteria selection.
As an aside, it seems as though the East Coast section really probably needs to be split into New England and Mid-Atlantic regions.
In the end, the title of the article is "famous universities" not "top ranked universities". Outside of some obvious choices (Harvard, Yale, Princeton & Stanford), fame is nearly impossible to quantify, and as mentioned previously, most definitely would require the inclusion of West Point and Annapolis if you would go beyond those four. It seems the article as is should be named "tour of top ranked universities" and perhaps switched to use an established and published ranking system, or some compilation of such. Otherwise, it may be necessary to accept entries that seem to justify their inclusion and notability in their short description that make clear common sense for them to be included in a travel guide.CrazyPaco 07:19, 13 May 2009 (EDT)