Like a gleeful student showing off a good report card, the University of Pittsburgh has been eagerly sharing the results of its recent evaluation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The glowing report, laced with superlatives, is impartial evidence of further improvements made at Pitt since its positive review in 2002 and since 1996, when an outside evaluation it requisitioned pointed out serious flaws in the caliber of its students, the quality of its undergraduate programs, administrative staffing levels, governance and more.
The latest Middle States report confirmed Pitt's own analysis, which said, among other things, that the university's national rankings have risen along with the standardized test scores of its freshman classes; it is doing a significantly better job of retaining freshman and in seeing students graduate in four years; it is winning higher levels of support from the prestigious National Science Foundation; and it uses stable, effective methods of institutional planning, budgeting and assessment.
"Over the past 15 years, the University of Pittsburgh's reputation as a world-class research university has been advancing steadily," the report said. "By any measure, this reputational advance reflects reality." The commission made just a few suggestions for the future, including expansion of freshman programming and inclusion of student performance when considering faculty for promotion and tenure.
Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said the report was so strong, thoughtful and positive that he would happily have claimed authorship, but it was much more satisfying to have the compliments come from someone else.
It also was a relief. The evaluators were on campus in the Spring when Pitt was subjected to a series of disruptive bomb threats, and they praised Pitt's crisis management as well.
The report confirmed Pitt's importance to the vitality and economy of Pittsburgh and the region, and it noted, correctly, that annual allocations from the state have "been diminishing at an alarming rate" and are "singularly shortsighted."
Nonetheless, in a meeting with Post-Gazette editors Mr. Nordenberg said he is not interested in attempting to revert to status as a private university, which Pitt maintained for 179 years until 1966, when it became state-related. "We would not voluntarily relinquish our state-related status," he said, explaining that Pitt values its position as a public institution, rooted in the city and committed to producing the region's future scientists, dentists, doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
It is reassuring that the leadership of the one of the city's largest institutions is committed to the mission of moving Western Pennsylvania forward, and that outside experts agree that Pitt is doing a superb job of it.