This year Cal Poly was named one of the “Best in the West” for the nineteenth straight year in U.S. News and World Report’s annual college guidebook.
Cal Poly ranked seventh among western schools that offer full undergraduate and master’s-level programs but few doctoral programs, and ranked second in public master’s engineering programs.
Cal Poly has consistently ranked highly in the U.S. News & World Report college lists. This is apparent when looking at the hallway leading to President Jeffrey Armstrong’s office on the top floor of the Administration Building. It is lined with old “America’s Best Colleges” magazines that feature Cal Poly.
Cal Poly’s computer, electrical and mechanical engineering programs also ranked first among public undergraduate programs in those categories, while Cal Poly’s civil and environmental engineering undergraduate programs ranked second.
President Jeffrey Armstrong, who passes the framed magazines every morning on his way to work, said he is proud that Cal Poly had once again earned the national recognition and credited it to the commitment of students and faculty.
“It’s the faculty’s complete focus on student success; it’s learn by doing, and it’s the excellence of our students,” Armstrong said. “We have really, really good students and we match them with outstanding faculty and staff.”
Cal Poly’s seventh-place ranking is a “huge compliment,” Armstrong said, because of the abundance of private schools on the list. Among the top ten, Cal Poly is the only public university.
“We’re surrounded by private institutions that have a lot smaller student body and a lot higher tuition,” Armstrong said.
The achievement also drives Armstrong to lead well as the new president of the school. Armstrong became president last February, after former president Warren Baker, who held the post for 31 years, stepped down.
“It adds to the already tremendously huge footsteps that I’m following,” Armstrong said.
Cal Poly’s College of Engineering also ranked second best public master’s engineering program in the nation, right behind the U.S. Military Academy. Dean of the College of Engineering Debra Larson said that she considers this ranking a first-place win.
“Frankly, we’re first in the nation in publically-funded colleges,” Larson said. “With the military, it’s just not apples-to-apples.”
The rankings are also notable because deans and faculty at colleges across the nation vote on them, Larson said. Similar to how actors for actors decide the Academy Awards recipients, educators decide the U.S. News & World Report college rankings for lists of undergraduate and master’s programs vote.
“It’s really an evaluation by our peers,” Larson said.
Cal Poly frequently attracts the attention of other universities because of its participation in national competitions, Larson said.
“Our students do so well in these national competitions,” Larson said. “It seems like every competition we enter, we win.”
Cal Poly students frequently win these national competitions because of the hands-on experience they get at school, Larson said. According to Larson, Cal Poly engineering students are involved in several applied projects that give them professional experience.
The dean cited one project in particular in which Cal Poly students are coordinating the orbit of three small satellites around the Earth.
“That’s an applied research that brings fantastic experience for our students,” Larson said.
Cal Poly’s repeated performance on the U.S. News college rankings doesn’t affect some students’ decisions to choose the university, however.
Liberal studies senior Mitch Epeneter said he wasn’t familiar with the ranking system when he decided to come to Cal Poly. Instead he picked Cal Poly because he was looking for an inexpensive university with a good reputation.
The U.S. News rankings may contribute to the school’s reputation, Epeneter said, but that’s not the only factor.
“It’s nice to know it and I’m glad we’re doing well,” Epeneter said. “That can only help our reputation, but our reputation isn’t just the way that it’s ranked in the magazine.”
For other students, like environmental management senior Christina McAdams, the U.S. News rankings were just one of several sources that listed Cal Poly favorably.
“I know that my parents have looked at ratings in the past and said that they were high,” McAdams said.
Like Epeneter, however, McAdams chose Cal Poly because of its strengths, and not its performance in college lists.
Editor’s Note: We originally wrote that “Cal Poly’s engineering master’s program was also ranked second best public master’s engineering program in the nation.” It was actually Cal Poly’s College of Engineering, not the master’s program, that was recognized.