Monday, October 20, 2014

Methodology Matters

It's all in how you measure stuff. Yes, friends, methodology matters.

Take this list for example. In it, I'm happy to report, UGA's graduate journalism program is ranked #5 in the country. That's very cool. No doubt we'll plaster it on the web site, toss it out on Twitter, and buttonhole random strangers in the parking lot to tell 'em the news.

Okay, but what about our PR graduate program? Our PR program (don't tell them I said this) is very likely the best, or among the three best, in the country. By any measure. So how'd it do? Check out the PR list here, or just allow me to tell you it's not ranked. At all. It has:
  1. Georgetown
  2. Rowan College
  3. Mississippi College
  4. Florida A&M
  5. Miami (Fla.)
And so on to the top 15, which if you know anything about the best PR programs you'd have no choice but to say, WTF?

So we return to the question, how did they measure this? What's their methodology? Let's look at the fine print. reaches current and recent graduate students through scholarship entries as well as social media platforms. These program rankings cover a period from September 1, 2012 to September 30, 2014. assigns 15 ranking categories to each graduate program at each graduate school. Rankings cover a variety of student topics, such as academic competitiveness, career support, financial aid, and quality of network.
Okay, we're clearly not talking a random, or every anywhere near random, sample. Scholarship entries? Social media?

What's interesting about the journalism list is there are no real surprises in it. It looks okay. Sure, it's missing Mizzou and Berkeley, but no odd programs pop up.

So what's happening here? My hunch is a lot of students conflate "journalism" and "public relations" and UGA's journalism program ranked higher than I might have expected, at least at the graduate level. My other hunch is the reliance on scholarship entries may bias the sample toward smaller, hungrier programs. It's impossible to say, but as always take these rankings for what they're worth -- fun, interesting, and good if you happen to come out on top.

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