UW-Eau Claire falls behind UW-La Crosse in university rankings

Story by Kelsie McMahon, Freelancer

UW-Eau Claire has slipped in the U.S. news rankings. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse currently holds the title as Wisconsin’s top comprehensive university.

UW-La Crosse placed 24th and UW-Eau Claire came in 31st for the 2011-12 academic school year, according to the U.S. News ranking among all midwest regional universities. They respectfully ranked fourth and fifth among all midwest regional public universities.

The statistics show that in the academic setting, La Crosse has passed Eau Claire in terms of acceptance rate, ACT scores and high school percentile rank of incoming freshmen, average freshman retention rate, and six-year average graduation rate.

U.S. News has several weighted categories they used to determine the statistical rankings of each university in the midwest. Comparing La Crosse and Eau Claire, there were two major factors that contributed the total score.

One factor was the six-year average graduation rate (under the “graduation and retention” category which accounts for 25 percent of the overall score and 80 percent in this subcategory) where La Crosse had 69 percent retention and Eau Claire had 64 percent retention in 2011-2012.

Under Eau Claire’s strategic plan, from the Centennial Plan Key Performance Indicators, the graph for six-year retention rate shows the percentage has been consistent.

The other factor was freshmen in the top 25 percent of their high school graduating class (under the “student selectivity” category which accounts for 15 percent of the overall score and 40 percent in this subcategory) where La Crosse had 70 percent of freshman in the top quarter of the class and Eau Claire had 54 percent in 2011-2012.

Eau Claire’s budget also plays a role in the statistics.

“Eau Claire ranks low on faculty salaries,” said Andy Nelson, director of institutional research at Eau Claire. “That could be a contributing factor as well.”

Faculty and staff salaries, from the UW System Payroll 2011-2012, calculated the average salaries of assistant, associate, and full professors of La Crosse to be $68,807.00 and UW-Eau Claire to be $65,714.36.

Nelson said faculty salaries have been pretty flat due to the tight budget and the majority of professors and instructors have not gotten a raise.

A final statistic shows incoming freshmen’s average high school percentile rank, from the Informational Memorandum. The graph displays La Crosse and Eau Claire’s averages from 1991-2010. Eau Claire was ahead until 1994 when La Crosse took the lead.

“It has to do with demographics,” Nelson said. “The pool of students is smaller and more competitive. We’re going further down the waiting list because there are less students to choose from.”

Nelson said improvement depends on the budget, the economy and population of students.

“From a numbers perspective, admitting students that are less prepared show up in retention rates and as an institution we need to be aware of this and proactive to help our students succeed,” Nelson said.

There are other circumstances that could have been part of the reason why La Crosse is ranked number one in Wisconsin.

“La Crosse changed its image … they morphed from a jock school into an allied heath school,” Kristina Anderson, the director of admissions at Eau Claire, said.

La Crosse’s most popular undergraduate programs are currently biology, psychology, elementary education, exercise and sport science, and marketing.

“The health program…it helped us quite a bit,” Cory Sjoquist, director of admissions at UW-La Crosse, said.

“Not only is UW-La Crosse expanding their programs, but they built two new residence halls, an academic building, and an athletic complex,” Sjoquist said. “On the horizon is the addition of a parking ramp, a student union, and a science complex. “[It’s a] sign of growth and forward planning to attract more students.”

Anderson the number of high school graduates is decreasing and all universities are competing for students. When there are pre-conceived notions that other schools are ‘better,’ it takes that much more effort to get ‘mindshare.’

“We need to improve our sense of pride in our university and our desire to identity with what the university stands for,” Eau Claire junior Ariana Hadjimarkos said. “Prospective students and other important audiences are drawn to a school that has a strong sense of identity and provides evidence of a successful college career.”

Anderson said Eau Claire is not as concerned with passing La Crosse as it is with ensuring its students get a quality education.

“Eau Claire needs to focus on its strengths and not try to ‘beat’ someone else,” Anderson said. “Because the goal is helping students find the best fit and begin true to who you are as a university.”