UC Berkeley Ranked First in Ph.D. Programs


Judged on faculty quality, UC Berkeley is the best overall graduate institution in the nation and three other California universities rank among the top schools, according to a long-awaited study released Tuesday by the National Research Council.

Harvard, Yale and other venerable Eastern schools held their own as usual, but Berkeley, Stanford and UC San Diego placed first, second and 10th among institutions with the highest number of doctoral programs ranked in the top 10 in their field.

When the data was evaluated a different way, by the percentage of each school’s programs rated highest, Caltech joined that California threesome in the top 10.

Other California institutions did well in particular areas. Of the 274 universities evaluated, for example, UC San Francisco had the top-ranked biochemistry and molecular biology program. UCLA’s linguistics program was deemed third-best, while its physiology and psychology programs both ranked fourth in the nation.


The 740-page study, which cost $1.2 million and took four years to complete, only solidified UC Berkeley’s already sterling reputation. With 35 of its 36 graduate programs rated among the top 10 in their fields for scholarly quality, that campus was by far the country’s best-rated graduate institution across the board.

But some said Tuesday that UC San Diego was California’s real winner. Ranked No. 1 in oceanography and neurosciences and in the top 10 overall, many said the ocean-view campus in La Jolla was finally getting its due.

“UCSD has come of age in this one,” said UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young, who admitted he was surprised that his own campus--which ranked 13th or 14th overall depending on analytic method used--hadn’t done better. Still, he said, “this is awfully good company to be in. And we’re in that company. We’re up high.”

UC San Diego Chancellor Richard C. Atkinson, who will become UC’s next president in October, said: “This is quite an accomplishment. . . . This survey has placed us firmly in the company of some of the very finest and oldest academic institutions in the country.”


The new report--widely seen in higher education as one of the best measures of academic quality--updates and broadens a 1982 study by the Conference Board of Associated Research Councils, an ad-hoc group consisting of the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Council on Education, the National Research Council and the Social Science Research Council.

UC Berkeley also came out on top in the 1982 study of faculty quality, followed by Stanford, Harvard and Yale, while UCLA and Princeton tied for fifth place. At the time, that news was seen by many to place UCLA among the nation’s top-ranked research universities.

The new study, consisting of data collected mostly in 1993, examined more than 3,600 doctoral programs in 41 fields. Universities provided data on the students and faculty. National databases yielded detailed information about faculty research productivity and graduates.

But the most crucial part of the study was a survey of nearly 8,000 university faculty members. Their responses to detailed questionnaires provided a peer assessment of each program’s effectiveness in training scholars and research scientists and of the overall scholarly quality of each program’s faculty.


Of all the areas scrutinized in the study, this one--referred to as the “reputational” scale--is the area that many educators believe is most meaningful. Although some question how accurate such qualitative rankings can be, many institutions put a lot of stock in them. On Tuesday, UC was no exception.

UC President Jack W. Peltason issued a statement celebrating the fact that more than half of the 229 UC doctoral programs evaluated were rated in the top 20 in their fields in terms of faculty quality--a record of performance that he said was unmatched by any university system in the nation.

“The study confirms what most of us have long known--that the quality of UC’s doctoral programs is truly extraordinary,” Peltason said.

What the study took pains not to confirm, however, was an overall ranking of graduate schools. The study ranked doctoral programs separately, by field, thus providing the data for detailed comparisons between schools, but intentionally not analyzing those comparisons.


“We did not consider it as a tournament where we were looking for No. 1,” said Stephen M. Stigler, a University of Chicago statistics professor and one of the 19 members of the committee that compiled the report.

Stigler said that other than “satisfying people’s cravings” for knowing who is on top, such rankings were largely useless for those who most need to know about graduate programs: aspiring graduate students and their parents.

“When you talk about graduate research programs, people should not be applying to a [whole] university,” he said. “They apply to a program in a university.”

But that did little to stop universities--and journalists--from making their own tallies to determine which schools had fared best. UC Berkeley faxed the media 11 pages of hastily computed rankings based on criteria such as which schools had the most programs that ranked in the top 10.


By contrast, UCLA preferred to judge schools by how many of their programs ranked in the top 20--by that measure, UCLA placed third, after Stanford and UC Berkeley.

Another method involved tallying how many No. 1-ranked programs each university had. Four schools had six No. 1 programs: Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago had five each, Caltech had three, and Princeton University, UC San Diego and Columbia University each had two.

Among Southern California schools, there were other accomplishments. UC Irvine’s comparative literature program was ranked eighth in the nation, and its French language and literature program came in 10th. UC Santa Barbara’s geography program was found to be fourth-best, its materials sciences program eighth, its religion program ninth and its physics program 10th. And USC’s electrical engineering program tied for 10th place with UCLA.

Looking north, UC Santa Cruz’s astrophysics and astronomy program was ranked sixth in the country and its linguistics program was 10th. UC Davis was ranked fifth for its ecology and evolutionary behavior program. And in addition to its top-rated biochemistry program, UC San Francisco was ranked seventh or above in developmental biology, genetics, neurosciences, physiology and biomedical engineering.


In addition to straight rankings, the study also included some subtleties that shed some light on the relationship between reputation and excellence.

For example, in addition to ranking faculty quality, the study ranked the overall effectiveness of each program. In most cases, as one might expect, these rankings were identical--Yale University’s history program was rated No. 1 in both categories, for instance.

But there were some discrepancies. Harvard’s history program, for example, ranked fourth in faculty quality but dropped to 12th in effectiveness.

“You may find some anomalies,” said Stigler, who explained that such a drop would appear to indicate that “there is a place with an excellent faculty, but [the study’s] raters don’t feel they’re as effective in educating their students as other schools.”


Digging deeper into the data, another column of statistics reflected the views of a select subset of the study’s participants: academics who work at universities that the study deemed to be among the upper half of those rated. This group sometimes reached different conclusions than the larger whole, such as putting UCLA’s history program at fifth place instead of sixth.

The study did not rank undergraduate or master’s programs, focusing only on doctoral programs.

The doctor of philosophy degree, or Ph.D., is the highest academic degree offered by universities in the United States. A research degree, it signals that an individual has mastered the advanced concepts of a field of inquiry and has developed the capacity to make independent intellectual contributions to the field.



Best Graduate Schools

The National Research Council study rated the faculty quality of doctoral degree programs for the first time since 1982. This list ranks universities by the percentage of their graduate programs that the study rated among the top 10 in the country.


Rank School % Programs in top 10 1 Berkeley 97% 35 of 36 2 MIT 87% 20 of 23 3 Harvard 87% 26 of 30 4 Stanford 78% 31 of 40 5 Princeton 78% 22 of 29 6 CalTech 68% 13 of 19 7 Yale 63% 19 of 30 8 Chicago 60% 18 of 30 9 Cornell 53% 19 of 36 10 UCSD 48% 14 of 29



Note: The National Research Council’s study ranked individual graduate programs, but did not provide rankings for overall quality of institutions. The list above is based on a UC Berkeley analysis of the NRC data. A separate analysis by UC San Diego reached a different conclusion in one case, rating Princeton 4th and Stanford 5th.


California’s Best


UC Berkeley has the most research doctoral programs that rank among the nation’s top five by field. Here are the California universities with Ph.D programs that place in the top five in their fields and their ranks. Asterisks indicate a tie.


Chemistry: 1

English Literature: 1*


German: 1

Mathematics: 1*

Statistics: 1*

Classics: 2


Civil Engineering: 2

History: 2

Industrial Engineering: 2

Political Science: 2


Anthropology: 3

Art History: 3

Astrophysics/Astronomy: 3

Biostatistics: 3


Chemical Engineering: 3

Computer Sciences: 3

Geosciences: 3

Mechanical Engineering: 3


Music: 3

Physics: 3*

Sociology: 3

Biochemistry: 4


Electrical Engineering: 4

Materials Science: 4

Philosophy: 4



Computer Science: 1

Ecology/Evolution/Behavior: 1*

Electrical Engineering: 1

Mechanical Engineering: 1


Psychology: 1

Statistics: 1*

Biochemistry: 2*

Aeronautics: 3


Civil Engineering: 3

Chemistry: 3*

Economics: 4

English Literature: 5*


Molecular Genetics: 5

Geosciences: 5

Neurosciences: 5

Political Science: 5



Aeronautics: 1

Astronomy: 1

Geosciences: 1


Chemistry: 2

Cell Biology/Biophysics: 4

Genetics: 4

Mechanical Engineering: 4


Electrical Engineering: 5

Physics: 5


Neurosciences: 1


Oceanography: 1

Biomedical Engineering: 2

Physiology: 2

Pharmacology: 3



Biochemistry: 1

Genetics: 2

Cellular Biology: 3


Neurosciences: 4

Physiology: 5*


Linguistics: 3


Physiology: 4

Psychology: 4

Sociology: 5



Geography: 4


Ecology/Evolution/Behavior: 5



* UC Irvine’s highest-ranked doctoral program is comp. literature, rated eighth.

* USC’s highest-ranked doctoral program is electrical engineering, rated 10th.

* UC Riverside’s highest-ranked doctoral programs are comparative literature and ecology, evolution and behavior, rated 26th in those fields.

Source: National Research Council