National Research Council Ranks Liberal Arts Ph.D. Programs Among the Nation's Best

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Monday, April 11, 2011

The College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State is firmly on the road to becoming a top public liberal arts college, as illustrated by the recently-released National Research Council rankings. Twelve of the thirteen programs evaluated in the report posted dramatic gains in national ratings of faculty and student productivity, with Anthropology taking the no. 1 spot, five other programs in the top 10 percent of their respective fields, and another five in the top 25 percent.

“I’m delighted to say that the outstanding work of our faculty and staff, the support of the administration, and the investments our alumni and friends have made have really paid off over the last two decades,” said Dr. Susan Welch, dean of the College of the Liberal Arts. “When I arrived in 1991, President Bryce Jordan made it clear that Liberal Arts had to climb considerably if Penn State was to realize its goal of being a top public university. In the last NRC report in 1995, only two departments were ranked in the top quarter of their disciplines, but now we have eleven programs there. By any standard, we did very well.”

The College’s thirteen programs had the following ratings of productivity in the National Research Council survey:

  • Anthropology ranked no. 1 in its discipline, one of two Penn State programs so ranked.
  • Spanish ranked no. 3;
  • Sociology at no. 4;
  • English and Political Science at no. 5;
  • Communication Arts and Sciences at no. 10;
  • Comparative Literature, French and Francophone Studies, History, Philosophy, and Psychology in the top 25 percent of their respective fields;
  • Economics ranked in the 29 percent of its field and German in the 32 percent.

Dr. Rodney Erickson, executive vice president and provost at Penn State, said "We could not be a premier public university without a top ranked liberal arts college, and I congratulate the College and the faculty and staff on this accomplishment. All Penn State students take nearly one-third of their courses in the liberal arts as an essential part of their degree and they greatly benefit from the high quality of the College programs."

Dr. Robert Secor, vice provost emeritus and former head of the Department of English, said, “It is especially gratifying to see the fruit of the strategic planning the faculty and I had started in 1990 to join the elite English departments in the Big Ten. When Dean Welch arrived, she and her administrative team made a long-term commitment to the ‘English Initiative,’ greatly strengthening and diversifying our faculty and graduate students. I am very proud that the ‘English Initiative’ and the work of subsequent department heads and faculty have resulted in this elite ranking among the Big Ten.”

The College’s top ranked departments are in great company. Anthropology at number one is followed by Duke, Harvard, and Stanford. Spanish at third place is behind only Yale and Brown. Political science follows Stanford, Harvard, Michigan, and NYU, while sociology is fifth after Princeton, Penn, and two different programs at Harvard. English, also rated fifth, is behind Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Michigan.

The National Research Council is part of the National Academy of Sciences, a private non-profit institution that advises on science, technology, medical, and health policies to our nation’s leaders, established by a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. This is the first detailed survey since 1995. While the 1995 NRC rankings were based on a reputational assessment by academics across the U.S., the 2010 report developed one rating based on 20 quantitative measures from 2006, including faculty research productivity, completion rates of degrees, student support, and faculty and student diversity, and one rating on faculty opinions on reputations.

The College of the Liberal Arts focused on the rating using the 20 measures of faculty and graduate student outcomes as the most meaningful in the comprehensive rating system. The specific rankings are reported at, while the full NRC ratings are at

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