February 9, 2018

A new research study that evaluates U.S. public policy schools on the basis of their faculty members’ research output presents substantially different rankings than the widely publicized rankings by U.S. News & World Report, which are based solely on an opinion survey.

The study was conducted by Miguel Urquiola, a professor of economics and international affairs at Columbia University whose research focuses on the economics of education, and Elliott Ash, an assistant professor in economics and data science at the University of Warwick. It ranks Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School first overall, followed by Harvard’s Kennedy School, Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), and the policy schools at Chicago and Duke.

Its methodology reflects the complex, multidisciplinary nature of contemporary public policy, examining faculty research in the fields of economics, political science, public administration, and even natural sciences.

The researchers’ aim was to develop school rankings based on objective and measurable criteria and that reflect the quality and quantity of research by 4,927 faculty members affiliated with 44 public policy schools. Ash and Urquiola counted the number of articles and books written—more than 52,000 in total—along with the quality of journals in which articles appeared and the number of citations received.

In contrast, U.S. News asks scholars from programs that offer degrees in public policy, public affairs, or public administration to rate, on a 1-to-5 scale, the quality of 271 different programs in these fields. U.S. News then reduces the responses to an ordinal ranking.

“As the paper notes, the survey-based methodology of other rankings has virtues but also substantial drawbacks,” said Urquiola. “We believe that research output and quality, measured objectively, are fundamental indicators of faculty and school quality—factors that certainly deserve increased attention.”

The authors suggest that the findings will appeal to school administrators, students, and journalists for different reasons.

The paper, entitled “A Research-Based Ranking of Public Policy Schools,” was posted to SSRN (the Social Science Research Network) on January 5. Urquiola said the authors are planning to submit it to an academic journal.