THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

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Issue 31, Fall 2006

William A. McEachern, Editor

Rating Economists

To examine overall quality ratings for a cross-section of higher-education institutions, I selected a sample consisting of all rated teachers at 32 schools, sorted into four groups: the eight Ivies (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale); eight elite liberal arts colleges (Amherst, Holy Cross, Pomona, Oberlin, Swarthmore, Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Williams); eight large public universities (UCLA, Berkeley, UConn, Florida, Michigan, Michigan State, Texas, and Virginia); and eight large community colleges (Glendale, Houston, Macomb, Mesa, Miami Dade, Monroe, Northern Virginia, and Portland).

The entire 32-school sample includes 22,102 teachers evaluated on RateMyProfessor.com. The average school in the sample had 691 rated teachers. The ratings are cumulative through the first week of September 2006, with the first student entries in a few cases dating back to 2001. I computed the distribution of good, average, and poor ratings by school, then averaged these to get the average distribution for the entire sample. The 32-school profile shows 66% were rated good, 18% average, and 16% poor. With two thirds of faculty rated good, students do not seem to be particularly tough graders. That variation of the Lake Wobegon effect, where most are above average, also holds for many college-sponsored ratings.

Faculty members at the eight elite colleges rated the highest among the four types of institutions. At elite colleges, 72% were rated as good, compared to 65% at community colleges, 64% at the Ivies, and 63% at public universities. And only 9% at elite colleges were rated poor, compared to 16% at community colleges, 18% at public universities, and 19% at the Ivies.

The sample includes a total of 621 economics teachers evaluated on the site, or an average of 19.4 economists per institution. How do the overall quality ratings of economists compare with those of all faculty? Among the 32 schools surveyed, 56% of economists were rated good, 26% average, and 18% poor. Thus, when compared to faculty more generally, a smaller share of economists was rated good (56% vs. 66%) and a larger share was rated average (26% vs. 18%) or poor (18% vs. 16%).

Economists at elite colleges had higher average ratings than economists at other institutions in the sample. For example, 70% of elite-college economists were rated good, versus 56% at community colleges, 51% at public universities, and 48% at the Ivies. And only 8% of economists at elite colleges were rated poor, versus 20% at the Ivies, 21% at community colleges, and 23% at public universities.

Drilling down to the college level, I found that at only 6 of the 32 institutions did the share of economists rated good exceed the share of all faculty at that institution rated good. This list included 1 of 8 Ivies (Yale), 0 of 8 public universities, 2 of 8 elite colleges (Holy Cross and Wellesley), and 3 of 8 community colleges ( Glendale , Monroe , and Northern Virginia ).

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