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Iowa State U, The Forbes Ranking and the Grand Junction Sentinel

Geoff Wood

I use Google Reader to read various blogs each morning. I also use it to display various search terms indexed by Google News. This morning the following column, from the Grand Junction (CO) Daily Sentinel, appeared.

Iowa State: our nation's academic anchor
Mortified. Iowa State may have been the big loser this bowl season. No, not in football. Iowa State goes to a bowl about as often as Boulder elects a Republican. But did you see the Forbes magazine college rankings?

And here I thought the worst my alma mater could do was continually occupy the anchor position — that’s on the bottom — in Big 12 football wars. Wrong. According to the Forbes folks, if Iowa State were a college student, it would barely have a two-point GPA. Of the 569 schools ranked, my Cyclones finished 563. All I can say is “Thank God” for the Milwaukee School of Engineering (569).

What a whupping we Iowa Staters endured at the hands of the Forbes evaluators. It was no surprise the usual Ivy League suspects hung out at the top. Princeton (1), Harvard (3) and the like. Those schools, best known for sending to Wall Street a never-ending supply of weasels and crooks, were certain to catch the eye of a business publication like Forbes.

But the Forbes folks wiped out any possibility for family bragging rights. Iowa State came up short, measured against any institution that accepted tuition payments on behalf of my offspring, that being Cal Poly (369), CU Denver (409), the University of Southern California (300) and, this really stung, the University of Iowa (331).

Iowa State not only finished at the bottom of the Big 12 academically, according to Forbes, but also finished last in its home state. It was even taken to the academic woodshed by Dordt, a school I’d never heard of. Dordt? It’s in Sioux Center, a fact only learned from Google, and I’ve actually been to Sioux Center.

Speaking of schools never known to exist, Iowa State also ranked behind Pennsylvania’s Ursinius (231), Virginia’s University of Mary Washington (144), Yeshiva University of New York City (347) and the California Maritime Academy (399). California has a Navy?

Academically, we were also beaten by girls, Swarthmore (4), Wellesley (8) and Smith (17). We lost to Cowboys, Wyoming (223) and Indians, the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota U (550).

As bad as Iowa State is in football, we usually can squeeze out a victory or two over direction schools. According to Forbes, that doesn’t hold true academically. We came up short compared to Northern Arizona (350), Southern Mississippi (262) and Western Washington (398).

The Cyclones were absolutely hammered by any and all religions. Take your pick. Notre Dame (77), BYU (117), Ouachitta Baptist (294) and Wesleyans from Nebraska (78), Oklahoma (185) and Ohio (181); plus, Messiah University (357) were higher on the Forbes list than, well, you know.

Iowa State came up short not once, but twice, against Northwestern. The Illinois Northwestern ranked 11 while the Northwestern in Minnesota (Minnesota has a Northwestern?) came in at 271.

Speaking of Scandinavians, they were no exception with St. Olaf (87), Luther (88) and Gustavous Adolphus (103) getting in their licks.

What was the Cyclone nation’s response to the lowly ranking from Forbes? Sort of a collective Sarah Palinesque, “Oh Geez.” Apparently the folks at Iowa State are taking care of more important things first.

Last week they hired a new football coach.
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As you can imagine, I wasn't pleased. I checked the Forbes.com site to learn more about the rankings. It turns out their criteria is rough and the writer grossly mischaracterized what they mean. I sent off a snappy reply:
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Mr. Maynard,

I caught your column online (headline:" Iowa State: our nation's academic anchor") through Google News search this morning. As an alumnus myself, I'm not particularly pleased with the Iowa State's position in the Forbes ranking. However, it's not as bad as you characterize it in your piece. According to Forbes' website, just to be included in the ranking means that a school is in the top 15% of all undergraduate institutions in the country (hardly "an academic anchor"). You left out several other items of information that would be helpful to any reader, such as the criteria for evaluation, who in "Cyclone Nation" provided the "collective response", the fact these rankings were released more than five months ago, etc. The criteria alone proves the rankings are a bit lacking, citing information gleaned from RateMyProfessors.com (which asks students to choose if their profs are "hot" or "not") and Who's Who lists (which are known to include anyone willing to pay the membership fee).

While I'm sure the comparisons to the football team are amusing to your readers they are out of context (particularly due to time frame that you inappropriately presume).

I'm not sure your motivation in writing this piece - perhaps you find joy in self-deprecation or maybe you just had a tight deadline - but I'm not sure any of us are better off for having read it.
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Several hours later, the writer replied back witht the following:
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Sorry to tick you off [Sir].  I attended ISU many years ago.  Back then those who were "clones to the bone" had a sense of humor.  My how things have changed.
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Geez, I'm not sure what I was supposed to find funny in his original column but I missed it. Maybe if he had studied at a better (read: one higher in the Forbes rankings) school he'd be able to write a better column. Maybe if I had studied at a better school I'd be able to get the joke.
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