Monday, May 14, 2007

Academics – Just the Facts Ma’am

When a team can’t “prove it on the field”, perhaps the oldest fallback in college football becomes the “academic” attack. As in the old cheer “That’s all right, that’s OK, you’re going to work for us someday”. Over the years, many a college fan has taken solace in at least the notion that the opposing school is somehow academically inferior to their own.

Most fans have a least an idea, whether accurate or not, of the relative academic standing of their alma mater against their foes. In the state of Florida, for instance, many Florida fans suspect that their school is academically superior to Florida State. After all, this well told joke -

Q: What do Florida and FSU students have in common?
A: They both got into FSU.

- must have some truth to it to have endured for so long.

The problem is exactly how to determine objectively which schools are actually superior. US News has a well known college ranking system that relies on objective data subjectively ranked (criteria is weighted and a determination which is more important is made).

When looking at data on schools, the vast majority of it is either subject to argument about its value (how important is class size?), or is subject to local variations (like GPA). In the state of Florida, student GPA’s exceeding 4.0 are common due to the weightings given for advanced classes. Thus, while the University of Florida has an average freshman GPA of 4.0, how much comparative value does that really have to the average freshman at Georgia’s GPA of 3.7?

There are two pieces of data however that offer fairly compelling sources of objective evaluation – Acceptance Rate and SAT scores.

Acceptance rates, which show the overall competitiveness of a school, can be subject to individual state law (such as laws requiring a certain percentage of all graduating classes admission to state college), but do provide a fairly good indication of how difficult it is to gain admission to a school.

For the SEC, Acceptance Rates for the 2005-2006 class year were as follows –

Vanderbilt University 35%
University of Florida 57%
University of Georgia 65%
University of South Carolina 68%
Mississippi State University 69%
University of Alabama 72%
Louisiana State University 73%
University of Mississippi 73%
University of Tennessee 74%
University of Kentucky 77%
Auburn University 82%
University of Arkansas 87%

As stated, while the Acceptance Rate data is not perfect, it does give a pretty good indication of the selectiveness of a given school.

Some other notable schools –

Notre Dame 32%
Miami 46%
Michigan 57%
Florida State 62%
Ohio State 74%

SAT scores might be the single objective data piece available for comparison. SAT scores are reported by a range representing the 25th to 75th percentile scores for the freshman class of 2005-2006. Once again, for the SEC (by 25th percentile rank)–

Vanderbilt University 1280-1460
University of Florida 1160-1360
University of Georgia 1130-1330
Louisiana State University 1060-1290
University of South Carolina 1060-1270
University of Tennessee 1050-1270
University of Arkansas 1030-1280
University of Kentucky 1030-1270
Auburn University 1020-1220
University of Alabama 1000-1260
University of Mississippi 970-1180

Mississippi State University (for some reason) does not report this data.

And, once again, for other notables -

Notre Dame 1290-1470
University of Michigan 1220-1470
University of Miami 1160-1360
Ohio State University 1080-1300
Florida State 1070-1250

I approached this exercise with some admitted bias of my own, and there were some surprises for me, including the relative competitive nature of University of Miami.

Also, this data is for the general student population - not specifically for the athletes.

So, here is the data. The facts if you will.

Do with it what you wish.


Griffin said...

Isn't using something like SAT only an indication of the students pre-college aptitude?

It would seem that the Acceptance Rate & SAT score doesn't have anything to do with the college itself, only the difficulty of the getting into the actual school.

Perhaps if one assumes a direct correlation between the admissions process and the quality of education people get from the school, they are good indicators.

Love the blog, BTW.

Anonymous said...

Miami is a private school, I wasn't suprised at all at the average SAT scores.

Mergz said...

griffin -

The problem is I was looking for a objective way to compare schools. When you look at ranking systems like US News & World Report, they use all sorts of subjective criteria to make an overall ranking of "Best" (like class size and student/teacher ratios). Does having lower class sizes and s/t ratios make a college "better"? I don't know - but they seem to think it does.

SAT scores are what they are - and they are comparable across the whole nation.

machete said...

Good post.

I'm not surprised you were surprised about Miami, Mergz. Most people think that.

But truth is, The U is a tough school to get into academically. While the NCAA allows a "sliding scale" (where a lower GPA can be offset by a higher SAT/ACT score or vice versa), Miami has absolute minimums a student must reach.

For the few years I've followed high school recruiting, The U's turned away a number of 4 & 5-star kids that just couldn't make the grade.

More here.

Mergz said...


My "sin" in thinking about Miami is the same one often committed in regard to Florida - and that is associating fans with students.

Georgia students love to paint Florida fans as swamp livin', jort wearing, mullet headed rednecks. Without a doubt, some of the fans that live around the Gainesville area are exactly that. However, when I see the mass of Georgia fans late every October, I see plenty of the fat-flushed-face, gut-hanging-over-the-belt, camouflage hat wearing Georgia hill William types with a wad of dip in their mouths. And yes, some of them wear jorts. (I can’t decide which is worse – the jorts or the all red trousers some Georgia fans think it fashionable to wear).

Now, neither the student body population at UF or UGA looks anything like many of their “fans”. After Vandy, UF and UGA are the two best SEC schools. But as a fan AND a former student, the group I hang out with tends to be a little different than many of the non-student fans. You tend to “not see” the other fans of your own school after awhile. But when you get around the fans of those rival schools, every little peculiarity tends to stick out.

And so it is the same with Miami. Friends I know who actually went to UM tend to be pretty sharp. However, when you go to a game at the OB, as an “outsider” I notice the do-rag wearing, gold teeth, gold chain hat on sideways gangsta types.

And, wrongly, I came to associate those people with the school.

Mark said...

Wow. Great research and impressive numbers on that one.

Really makes me proud to know I was able to attend such a great University there in Gainesville.

Mergz, I love the stuff you get up on this site, good stuff. By the way, is there any way for me to contact you personally, like through e-mail?

- Mark

Anonymous said...

Although I did not attend UGA for undergrad, it doesn't surprise me that UGA's acceptance rates were higher, mainly because I would guess that the population of Georgia is much lower than Florida. I am pretty sure that UF is slightly larger than UGA, but not sure if the difference would make up for a lot more people applying. You tell me. To be honest with you, I am pretty sure most places of employment would likely lump degrees from both universities as those coming from pretty good public universities. It will take a little while to attain the subjective heading of elite public university that Berkeley, Michigan, UNC, and UVA bask in at the moment no matter what the numbers say. It isn't fair, just the status quo.