Cal Poly was recently named one of the best values in public colleges by Kiplinger, a personal finance organization. Cal Poly ranks 50th in the top 100 best valued public universities for in-state students, and 33rd for out-of-state students.
Not only has Cal Poly received a nod from Kiplinger, but it’s also been recognized by Forbes magazine, DesignIntelligence, The Wall Street Journal and others for its high standard of education and its “learn by doing” philosophy.
While these pieces of recognition are fine additions to Cal Poly’s résumé — some of these lists and awards are significant in the eyes of administrators — they don’t really impact students.
Provost Robert Koob said the various lists are good displays of information and generally helpful, but are to be taken lightly.
“They’re information (but also) someone’s opinion,” Koob said. “It’s not necessarily fact.”
While these rankings are just lists, Koob said Cal Poly ranks among private schools who receive large endowments from alumni.
“It’s pretty impressive to rank among private institutions,” Koob said. “And I think that’s because of the quality of professional education we have.”
The “learn by doing” model has earned Cal Poly recognition for its graphic communication program, as well as engineering, architecture and business. The Wall Street Journal deemed Cal Poly’s business and engineering grads the best hires in the nation in a September 2010 poll.
The graphic communication program has consistently received a national accreditation from the The Accrediting Council for Collegiate Graphic Communications, Inc. The program is one of eight nationwide to receive accreditation.
In August 2010, the aerospace engineering program was deemed by “Aviation Week & Space Technology,” first in the nation for industry recruiting, ranking above Pennsylvania State University, Virginia Tech, Massachusetts Tech and Purdue University.
The Orfalea College of Business holds the 64th spot on “Business Week’s” top business school list. It was one of four California schools that made the list, and one of two public schools to appear on the list.
Cal Poly also lands in the 27th spot of Forbes Magazine’s top 100 public universities. The rankings centered around interesting courses, speed of graduation and job prospects afterward. It also reflected students’ evaluations of courses and instructors, post-graduate success, estimated average student debt after graduation and graduation rates among its measurements.
For 18 years Cal Poly has been called the best public-master’s university in the west by U.S. News & World Report Rankings. Interim President Robert Glidden said he feels especially proud of Cal Poly’s rankings there, especially since immersing himself in the school.
“I have become increasingly aware during the brief time I’ve been at Cal Poly of how truly outstanding this university is,” he said.
Both Koob and Glidden said the lists are not a full-spectrum look at Cal Poly and its attributes. The most important parts, Koob said, couldn’t be quantified.
“More than anything, it’s important for students to know that we care about our students and their success, and you can’t really rank that,” he said. “You can’t make a decision based on these lists alone. You have to visit campus, and see if you could call this place home.”
Glidden said if surveyors had a real opportunity to walk around campus and talk with students, ratings would surely go up.
While administrators see the lists as a sort of SparkNotes for exploring Cal Poly, journalism freshman Kassi Luja didn’t rely much on lists and rankings.
“When I got into Cal Poly, I started doing more serious research on it,” Luja said.
She relied on the College Board website, which acts as an aggregator for rankings and statistics, but also matches students with schools that fit their criteria. When she arrived, Luja said she felt like she still had a lot to learn about the school.
“In the first few weeks of school, I found myself in a sea of people who knew a lot more about (the journalism department) than I did, and it was a little upsetting,” she said. “But I still feel confident that I made the right choice.”
Luja didn’t rely at all on the various lists on which Cal Poly is ranked, which is typical of prospective students, said James Maraviglia, the Associate Vice Provost for Marketing and Enrollment Development.
“Less than 2 percent of students use those kinds of lists as decision-making aides,” he said. “But nearly 78 percent of students have been given a tour and have seen what the campus is like.”
While Maraviglia would gladly do away with the ranking systems all together, he said any positive press is good, even if it’s not highly read by students.
“They aren’t something we use in recruitment, but it is nice to be recognized,” Marviglia said.
Regardless, English freshman Mikey MacEgan hadn’t heard of the various lists on which Cal Poly appears.
“Nothing like that factored into my decision to come here,” MacEgan said. “That isn’t what’s chiefly important to me.”
Maraviglia stressed the importance of other on-campus resources used for recruitment.
“We don’t need lists and rankings when we have programs like Open House and Poly Reps that give students a personal feel for the campus,” he said.
Lists, rankings and accreditations are no match for exploring Cal Poly and making a personal connection with the campus. So, while lists are great, Koob said, they can never compare to spending time on campus.
“What we really care about is the relationship between students and their education. You can’t get that from a list.”