More BYU graduates earned doctorates between 1995 and 2004 than did graduates of Stanford, Yale and MIT, according to the analysis conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
The ranking thrilled BYU administrators, who are preparing for Thursday's summer graduation ceremonies, the annual university conference and the start of fall classes on Sept. 5.
"The thing I like about this one is it is not a perception ranking it's not a beauty contest it's about actual student performance and the kind of thing we want to be really good in, undergraduate education," BYU academic vice president John Tanner said.
Size clearly played a part in the rankings, said Tom Hoffer, the principal researcher on the NORC study.
"Most of the schools in the top 10 are enormous institutions," he said. "Cal-Berkeley (which finished first), Michigan (second), Texas (fifth) and Wisconsin (sixth) are among the largest schools in the nation, so they generate more graduates than most schools."
With just fewer than 30,000 undergraduate students last fall, BYU is the nation's second-largest private university, behind New York University. With 7,000 graduates last year, BYU awards more bachelor's degrees each year than Harvard (seventh), MIT (11th), Yale (15th) or Stanford (16th).
That doesn't take away from the fact 2,116 of BYU's graduates went on to earn doctorates during the decade analyzed by the study, Tanner said. BYU's mission is to be a teaching institution, preparing students for careers or graduate education, if they choose. It is not a research university, and it offers few doctoral programs of its own.
Many BYU students move on to graduate programs at the nation's elite research institutions. For example, Cal-Berkeley has admitted 18 to 20 BYU graduates to graduate programs in each of the past three years, said Judi Sui, director of data for Cal-Berkeley's graduate programs.
The NORC's Hoffer expressed surprise at the way BYU's graduates go on to earn doctorates in the full spread of the seven broad categories of doctoral disciplines established by the NORC. In 2004, the last year of available data, 49 BYU graduates earned doctorates in the social sciences, 43 in humanities, 42 in life sciences, 35 in engineering, 27 in education, 25 in physical sciences and 16 in a category called professional or other.
Spencer Jones is one of the estimated 2,150 students who will earn bachelor's degrees on Thursday. Jones is headed to Princeton to study organic chemistry after fielding offers from Harvard, Caltech, Cal-Irvine and Penn.
Jones said BYU's recent emphasis on "mentored learning" impressed graduate schools. Jones and his faculty adviser, Steven Castle, are publishing a paper this week in the scholarly journal "Organic Letters." The paper is about a chemical they created with a molecular structure similar to morphine.
BYU intends research opportunities like those Jones experienced as an undergraduate to rival those of graduate students at other schools. The university awarded $557,000 in grants to 370 undergraduates during the past academic year to help them work on research proposals.
BYU also gave about $1.5 million to 102 faculty members for projects involving undergraduates.
Jones arrived in Provo intent on moving on to a top graduate school and found the mix of scholarship and religion he hoped for at the school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"I encourage anyone to go to BYU," Jones said. "It provides a really balanced education and prepares you for whatever career path you want to take in life."
The NORC's study "Baccalaureate Origins of U.S. Research Doctorate Recipients, 1995-2004" noted between 197 and 237 Ph.D.s earned by BYU graduates during the years of the study. The University of Utah ranked 64th.
The study is an offshoot of an annual "Survey of Earned Doctorates" completed annually since 1958, Hoffer said.
The 2004 survey showed 42,155 research doctorates awarded by 419 schools. Utah ranked 34th in the nation in doctoral degrees granted by institutions in the state.
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