On April 15, U.S. News and World Report magazine released its 2010 graduate program rankings, which count UC Santa Barbara’s physics department among the top ten in the nation. The overall physics program was ranked number ten, but several specialized programs within the field boasted even higher positions on the list, with condensed matter at number three, quantum at number five, elementary particles/field/string theory at number eight, and cosmology/relativity/gravity at number nine. The rankings are based on reputation, selectivity, placement success, and faculty resources, according to the magazine.
Overall, seven of UCSB’s graduate programs were ranked in the top 50. The other two featured in the top 25, other than the physics department, were the College of Engineering at number 19 and earth sciences at number 23. “It is gratifying to see that the rankings…reflect our longstanding success in these areas,” said physics professor Pierre Wiltzius, but they do not reflect UCSB’s strength in newer and more interdisciplinary areas such as marine science and environmental studies, he argues. “Other recent rankings have placed UCSB in the top 10 worldwide for the overall study of climate change,” Wiltzius said. “And our geography department is consistently ranked as one of the best in the country.”
U.S. News and World Report’s collegiate ranking system, which debuted in 1983, is considered highly influential in how schools are perceived internally and by the outside world. Critics have long faulted the ranking as being overly simplistic, easily manipulated, and unreflective of the unique traits of individual schools, while others claim that it has created an incentive system that encourages administrators to make positive decisions directed toward improving rankings.