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Department of Computer Science

University of California, Santa Barbara

The Computer Science Department at UCSB ranks among the Top 10 in the Nation by the National Research Council

Harold Frank Hall

On September 28, 2010, the National Research Council (NRC) released its ranking of PhD programs across the nation. The survey evaluates over 5,000 PhD programs in 62 fields and 212 universities in the United States.

The PhD program of the Department of Computer Science was scored in the ranges 3-16 (using the S-Ranking) and 6-18 (using the R-ranking) by the NRC.

These scores put the Department of Computer Science within the top 10 of the nation's PhD programs in Computer Science.

Looking at the mean value for the S-ranking of Computer Science Departments, Computer Science at UCSB is tied for 5th with CMU and Berkeley, just behind Stanford, Princeton, MIT and U Penn. Alternatively, based on the mean value for the R-rankings, UCSB CS ranks 9th among all programs, after such traditional powerhouses as Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The NRC rankings provide a more accurate measure of a department's quality than other rankings, for example, the US News and World Report, due to the NRC’s reliance on collected data and statistical analysis. Where the US News and World Report rankings are purely based on an opinion poll, the NRC rankings are based on a vast amount of collected data that are analyzed using a sophisticated ranking formula. Below we describe the graduate program in Computer Science at UCSB. At the bottom, we describe the NRC ranking in more detail.

The UCSB Computer Science Graduate Program

chart of growth in grads

In 1996, 45 PhD and 39 MS students were enrolled in our graduate program. Fifteen years later, in 2011, we had 130 PhD and 52 MS students, corresponding to a 189% increase in our PhD enrollment. This growth in our PhD program was intentional, as was the change in focus to a more PhD-centric program. While increasing the size of our graduate program, we also improved the success rate of our students. In 1996 we graduated 2 PhD and 16 MS students, whereas, in 2010, we graduated 14 PhD and 27 MS students. This corresponds to more than 6-fold increase in our PhD production, and more than 50% increase in our MS production.

chart of growth in grad degrees

What is the NRC Ranking?

The National Research Council(NRC) is part of a nonprofit institution that provides science, technology and health policy advice to the United States government and the public. As a part of its mission, the NRC periodically assesses the quality of doctoral programs in the United States. The assessment is based on data collected for each program on the following 20 characteristics:

Publications per faculty member Percent non-Asian minority students
Citations per publication Percent female students
Percent faculty with grants Percent international students
Percent interdisciplinary faculty Average PhDs granted from 2002 to 2006
Percent non-Asian minority faculty Percent students who obtain their degree within 6 years
Percent female faculty Average graduation time for students (Time to degree)
Awards per allocated faculty Percent students who obtain academic positions after graduation
Average GRE-Quantitative score for students Student work space
Percent 1st-year students with full support Health insurance for students
Percent 1st-year students with external funding Number of activities available for students

The data were collected during 2005-2006 through questionnaires sent to institutions, departments, faculty and the students.

The NRC study divides these 20 characteristics into three general categories:

  1. Research activity: Includes characteristics such as publications, citations, percent of faculty holding research grants, and recognition through honors and awards.
  2. Student support and outcomes: Includes characteristics such as percent of fully funded students, the percent of students completing their degrees in a given time period, and expected placement in academic positions.
  3. Diversity of the academic environment: Includes characteristics such as the percent of faculty and students from underrepresented minority groups, the percent of faculty and students who are female and the percent of students who are international.

NRC provides two rankings called S (or survey-based) rankings and R (or regression-based) rankings. These rankings differ in the way they assign weights to different characteristics. The weights used in the S-rankings were obtained based on a survey that asked faculty to rate the importance of 20 different program characteristics in determining the quality of a program. The weights in the R-rankings were obtained indirectly by first asking a randomly selected group of faculty to rate the quality of a set of programs in their field, and then determining (using statistical techniques) what set of weights would generate the same ratings. The weights for both S and R-ratings vary from field to field since they reflect the responses of the faculty in a particular field.

The NRC assessment reports the final rankings as a range rather than a strict ordering of programs. Each program was ranked 500 times by using a different subset of the data to account for variability in the data. Each of these 500 rankings can give a different rank for each program. NRC excludes the lowest and highest five percent ranking for each program and reports the 5th and 95th percentile rankings. For example, UCSB Computer Science (CS) received a range of 3-16 for the S-ranking, which means that in 5% of the results UCSB was in the top 3 among all CS programs and in 95% of the results UCSB was in the top 16 among all CS programs. If one looks at the mean value for the S-ranking, UCSB CS ranks 5th among all programs after Stanford, Princeton, MIT and CMU.

How can you explore the NRC rankings and the data?

The website allows users to browse the NRC assessment data interactively. In addition to showing the S and R-rankings, this site allows users to assign different weights to different characteristics and obtain a ranking based on the assigned weights.

The complete data set for the NRC assessment and the NRC report on the assessment can be obtained from the National Academies Press.

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Updated 06-Oct-2011
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