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Baylor improves psych rankings

Nov. 12, 2010

By Meghan Hendrickson
Staff Writer

This year Baylor's psychology doctoral program experienced an increase in rankings in the National Research Council's survey, coming in at 47 percent in relation to the nation's programs.

In 1995, the doctoral program received a disappointing ranking of 89 percent in the National Research Council survey, said Dr. Matthew Stanford, director of the psychology doctoral program.

Stanford said when he first saw the National Research Council rankings for this year, he was surprised at how well Baylor's psychology doctoral program did.

"I knew we would do much better, no doubt about that, but when I'm looking at the data and seeing that we're ranking better than very prominent universities and in the same cohort as universities like Notre Dame, Emory and Rice, it's showing me how much our own strategic planning and 2012 has changed the university," Stanford said.

According to Stanford and Dr. Jimmy Diaz-Granados, psychology and neuroscience department chair, there are several reasons for the drastic change in national rankings.

He said shortly after the 1995 National Research Council survey rankings were released, the graduate department brought in some external reviewers, who were scientists in the field, to have them review the program.

They assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the psychology program so the department could develop a strategic plan to move forward.

Granados said Baylor offered support for the program to take the steps necessary to improve, including providing more competitive stipends, implementing a greater research emphasis, making beneficial changes to the curriculum and recruiting faculty that would improve the rankings on a number of measures.

He said nearly 90 percent of hires since 1996 have obtained external funding, most of which has been federal funding.

"I'm very pleased and impressed, though not surprised, by that significant improvement," said Dr. Larry Lyon, dean of the graduate school and vice provost for institutional effectiveness. "Baylor has hired some exceptional new faculty in psychology and has provided existing faculty with major support for our research and I think this change in rankings shows the fruit of that investment."

Stanford said all of these changes began before Baylor 2012 was initiated, but once Baylor 2012 was implemented it helped accelerate the process even more.

"It's still been slow growing in some sense, but I also think it's been growing at a healthy pace," Granados said. "Could programs advance more quickly? They could. And if we had created a significant number of new positions, that would have gotten us growing a lot faster, but we really have done it by faculty attrition."

There are 22 students enrolled in the psychology doctoral program, while there are about 800 undergraduate psychology majors. Granados said this allows the department faculty and staff to give considerable attention to their graduate students.

"I think the way our program stands out is that we can offer a really quality education to the graduate students with all of the cutting-edge research in the department and an environment that allows easy access to professors," Stanford said. "Even though this is a small program, the level of research and quality education is what you'd find in major large institutions. The opportunity here at Baylor is to be in a small program where you get a lot of individual training instead of getting lost in a large school."

Stanford mentioned the National Research Council rankings were consistent with the U.S. News and World Report rankings released this summer of the best graduate schools in America, where Baylor ranked in the 49th percentile.

He said the difference between the two rankings is the U.S. News and World Report rankings are based on reputation and what people think about the program, while the National Research Council rankings are based on details of the programs themselves.

Both Granados and Stanford agree there is still room for growth, and in order to improve they must continue what they have been doing.

This includes things such as increasing package benefits and stipends to graduate students, and very strategic hiring of individuals that are both teachers and scientists and have a high probability of gaining external grants.

Stanford said it is vital to always look to the future.

"I think it is important that we keep a continual watch of development in the field and keep up-to-date on training and curriculum," Stanford said. "We're making significant strides as we made a tremendous jump from being incredibly low to the top 50 percent, but now there will be much slower progression because there's not as far to grow, but I believe we do have an opportunity to continue to move forward."