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February 18, 2014 9:09 PM Why Iowa State Might Be the Best College in America. Really.

By Daniel Luzer

The annual college rankings, well the other ones, not ours, result in fun headlines every year. What is the best college in America?

Depending on the rating system and the year, the answer usually rotates between three or four colleges, but I would like to propose another contender: Iowa State University.

This college, according to a recent piece at Slate by Rebecca Schuman is, unlike many colleges in America, making a lot of the good choices we should demand from an American university. At least it seems to be making the right decisions anyway. Schuman:

It turns out that focusing on academics helps student retention more than climbing walls, anyway. That’s the good news out of Iowa State University, which, according to the report by the Delta Costs Project at the American Institutes for Research, is the only—only—institution of higher learning in the entire country to spend the last eight years hiring full-time faculty and shrinking its administration. ISU President Steven Leath explained to the Des Moines Register that ISU wanted to “run a very lean operation and put as much into direct support of students and faculty” as possible, boosting full-time faculty hiring by an astounding 41 percent. (No riot-inducing tuition hike yet….)
Indeed, Iowa State is being lauded as one of the most efficiently run universities in the nation—and its student retention is up 3 percent since 2005. This might not be a spectacular number, but it’s a better increase than its rival, the University of Iowa, a prestigious flagship Research I institution (that, according to the Delta Costs Project, has added much fewer full-time faculty members and many more staff positions).

IState

In-state tuition at the school is about $6,600 a year, compared to almost $9,000 in in-state tuition across the country as a whole.

Back in 2011 this magazine published a piece about the growth in administrative staff at universities. Despite rhetoric about the importance of student retention and keeping tuition affordable, most universities are sinking more and more money into highly-paid management positions.

This sort of growth is hard to avoid, and American colleges tend not to get much credit when they resist the trend. While obviously Iowa State is a gigantic institution composed of many different components, its very real focus on hiring tenure-track faculty and keeping students enrolled from year to year is something for which we should commend the school.

Watch Iowa State; it’s one of the few colleges in this country that really seems to be making the right decisions. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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