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A surge of progress has placed Pitt in exceptional company. Here’s a look at how well we’re doing, even among the best nationwide.

The Company We Keep

Cindy Gill

(Jim Schafer photo)

Imagine that all University of Pittsburgh graduates—across time and from all five campuses—were invited to gather for one spectacular social occasion hosted by the Pittsburgh campus.

The large crowd would spill out of the Cathedral’s Commons Room and flow into the William Pitt Union, Alumni Hall, Hillman Library, and the 90 or so other buildings that spread across campus. Add to that list of guests the University’s vast assortment of students, its complement of high-achieving faculty, and its thousands of vital administrators, staff members, lab assistants, and technicians who advance the University’s enterprise throughout each year.

Everywhere on campus, among this crowd, there would be interesting, engaging, successful people—all part of the University of Pittsburgh community. Some of those people would be among the best thinkers and doers and creative achievers anywhere.

Even if the crowd’s scope was limited to a relatively recent span in Pitt’s 220-year history, the campus scene would include Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners, Fulbright Scholars and Grammy winners, along with thousands of top artists, government leaders, scientists, educators, community builders, business and health care experts, information and technology specialists, and other innovators who are improving lives worldwide through their work and their discoveries.

This would be very good company! Today, by virtue of being members of the extended Pitt community, all of us with ties to the University are part of this robust crowd, whether or not we’re anywhere near campus. The even better news is that, with the leadership of Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg, the University of Pittsburgh as a whole increasingly finds itself in exceptional company, too. Pitt’s stature and reputation continue to rise, and the dramatic progress may surprise even the most ardent Pitt supporters.

Most notably, according to the latest edition of The Top American Research Universities released last spring, the University of Pittsburgh now ranks in the very top cluster of public research universities for overall performance, along with Berkeley, Illinois, Michigan, UCLA, UNC, and Wisconsin.

The report is issued annually by the Center for Measuring University Performance, and it groups universities based on their demonstrated strength across nine objective measures: total research, federal research, endowment, annual giving, National Academy memberships, faculty awards, doctorates granted, postdoctoral fellowships appointed, and median SAT scores of incoming undergraduates. Pitt ranks among the top 25 public universities in all nine of the report’s categories.

And there’s something even more remarkable about this ranking. When the center issued its inaugural report in 2000, Pitt ranked in the fourth cluster of top public universities, not the first. To rise into the exclusive first cluster, Pitt had to meet a truly major challenge. In the words of the report’s authors: “Research universities live in a highly competitive marketplace, and none of those in the top categories is likely to cease improving. This means to get relatively better, a university must match and then exceed the growth of its competitors.”

The University of Pittsburgh was able to rise from the fourth to the first cluster of these highly regarded institutions in a mere six years, surpassing many fine universities along the way. That’s an extraordinary feat, but it’s not the only impressive news about Pitt’s recent progress.

A primary reason for the existence of any university is the advancement of human potential through the education of students. This has been fundamental to Pitt’s mission since 1787, when the institution’s charter was signed. Through the years, the University of Pittsburgh has generated many talented, accomplished, and productive members of society—and that record in advancing student potential has grown measurably.

Since 1995, when Chancellor Nordenberg took over the helm, the University of Pittsburgh has delivered two Rhodes and six Marshall Scholars, four Truman and four Udall Scholars, one Churchill Scholar, three Mellon Humanities Fellows, and 29 Goldwater Scholars. These scholarship awards are among the highest national and international honors that can be won by undergraduate students from any U.S. university. And, last year, Pitt produced both a Rhodes Scholar (Daniel Armanios ENGR ’07, A&S ’07) and a Marshall Scholar (Anna Quider A&S ’07). In addition to the three national service academies, only nine universities nationwide had both a Rhodes and Marshall Scholar last year: Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, New York University, Pitt, Princeton, Washington University in St. Louis, and Yale. And Pitt is the only public university on this list. This impressive and durable record makes Pitt one of the most consistent producers of high-achieving students in the nation.

On the research front, the University of Pittsburgh also is in very good company. Pitt’s annual research expenditures—the amount spent to conduct and support research—increased from about $230 million to more than $620 million between 1995 and 2007. That’s a dramatic increase in research activity. Even better, Pitt ranked seventh nationally in terms of support that our faculty attracted for its research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) during the most recent year that such data are available. Based on that data, NIH top institutions include: Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California at San Francisco, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), Pitt, the University of Washington, and Washington University in St. Louis.It is these research dollars that drive pioneering work, which benefits society in countless ways. It is these dollars that reflect institutional stature as a heavy-hitter in the national research community. It is these dollars that place Pitt among a highly exclusive group of top institutions.
In the realm of international education, the University of Pittsburgh is among those leading the way. For example, Pitt maintains its position of ninth among U.S. public universities in a ranking of the world’s top 200 universities by the Times Higher Education Supplement and Quacquarelli Symonds, a global company for educational and career information and networking. The 2007 edition of the ranking, the “Times Higher-QS World University Rankings,” also has Pitt advancing from 32nd to 28th place among all U.S. universities.

Meanwhile, all four of Pitt’s area studies programs—The Asian Studies Center, the Center for Latin American Studies, the European Studies Center, and the Center for Russian and East European Studies—as well as the International Business Center have been redesignated as National Resource Centers by the U.S. Department of Education. Only 17 American universities, public or private, have four or more programs with this designation, which is awarded competitively. These institutions include Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Cornell. Again, Pitt is in exclusive company. In addition, during the past year, the University was named one of the nation’s leading producers of both Fulbright Scholars and Peace Corps volunteers.

In fundraising, which is critical to sustained vitality and progress, the University of Pittsburgh also travels in exclusive company. Close to home, Pitt was the first organization in the region to raise $500 million for any purpose; it again broke a record by exceeding its increased $1 billion fundraising goal ahead of schedule—and is now on the way to pursuing a remarkable new goal of $2 billion. Nationally, only 13 universities are pursuing capital campaigns of $2 billon or more: Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Illinois, Johns Hopkins, Michigan, NYU, North Carolina (UNC), Pitt, Stanford, Virginia, the University of Washington, and Yale. The University of Pittsburgh also has been recognized recently for its ability to manage those funds, being a good steward of the resources it acquires. According to a study released in January 2007 by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, Pitt ranks fourth among U.S. public universities with endowments in excess of $1 billion and 10th among all universities, public and private, when it comes to the percentage increase in the market value of its endowment, which rose by 17.8 percent in fiscal year 2006. In the fiscal year that closed in June 2007, Pitt’s endowment rose by 21.5 percent—a stunning increase that will likely move the University even higher in these rankings.

In the sports arena, as well, Pitt continues to find itself in excellent company. Last year, rated colleges and universities on their combined strength in two sports—basketball and football—over the past five years. Pitt ranked Number 10, tied with the University of Michigan. In an all-sports ranking by Sports Illustrated on Campus, Pitt ranked 17th, tied with the University of Texas.

At the neighborhood level, the University of Pittsburgh also enjoys notable national company. Last year, Pitt was named among the top 25 “best neighbor” urban colleges and universities in a report created by the president of the New England Board of Higher Education, Evan Dobelle. He called these institutions the “Saviors of Our Cities,” those that had “dramatically strengthened the economy and quality
of life of their neighboring communities.” Only seven members of the Association of American Universities (AAU)—a prestigious by-invitation-only group of the 62 leading North American research universities—made that best-neighbor list. They are: Case Western, Chicago, Carnegie Mellon, Emory, Penn, Pitt, and UCLA.

By virtually every accounting, the University of Pittsburgh has emerged as a top performer. It is this collection of outstanding rankings and measures that best reflects Pitt’s stature among the nation’s truly exceptional institutions of higher learning.

Chancellor Nordenberg believes the Pitt experience clearly demonstrates that when good people team up and work hard, dramatic institutional change is possible. And, in true Pitt style, hard work and high aspirations remain key features of the institution’s destiny.

“We are not there yet,” says the Chancellor. “This collection of lists—based on performance as opposed to perception—serves as a reminder that we must continue to pursue our overarching goal, which is to be among the best in all that we do, always. This is, in fact, a never-ending goal. But we are moving in the right direction, we have made real progress, and we continue to pick up speed.”

Who wouldn’t want to be in company like this?


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