Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Research-based rankings show La Follette’s strengths

The La Follette School of Public Affairs placed highly in new research-based rankings of public policy schools in the United States. Authors Elliott Ash and Miguel Urquiola used bibliographic databases to gather measures of the quality and quantity of publication output for approximately 5,000 faculty members at 44 of the top U.S. policy schools, including the La Follette School.

The measures included the number of articles and books written, the quality of the journals the articles have appeared in, and the number of citations all have garnered. After aggregating these data to the school level, Ash and Urguiola found significant differences among their rankings and those previously available, including U.S. News & World Report’s rankings based on reputation.

“The La Follette School’s rankings in this productivity-based indicator of policy school performance are all the more impressive when you consider our relative size,” said La Follette School Director and Professor Don Moynihan. “We believe that our low student-teacher ratio, and the connections our core public policy faculty have with other UW–Madison scholars and research centers are among our greatest strengths.”

The authors used the SCImage Journal Rank (SJR), an indicator of journal quality produced by Scopus, the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature. For journals with an SJR above the 99th percentile, the La Follette School ranked 13th. For total number of articles published by faculty, La Follette ranked 10th; and for total number of books and chapters, it ranked seventh.

While the main rankings aggregate all journals together, the authors also provided rankings for four specific fields – economics, natural science, political science, and public administration. The La Follette School’s rankings based on the most prestigious set of journals for each field are:

  • Public administration – 4th
  • General political science – 13th
  • Economics – 14th
  • Natural science – 15th

These rankings confirm La Follette’s status in a range of similar studies using objective indicators of research quality such as publication in top-ranked journals and citation rates. In 2017, UW–Madison ranked sixth for public administration in the inaugural Center for World University Rankings by subject area and ranked 12th in public administration by the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

La Follette also ranked second for the articles faculty publish in the four top public administration journals for 2009 to 2013, according to a 2015 study in the International Public Management Journal. In addition, a study published by the Journal of Public Affairs Education in 2014 ranks UW–Madison fourth for public administration research.

In the most recent U.S. News & World Report’s rankings, the La Follette School tied for 23rd among 272 master’s programs in public affairs. For field-specific areas, La Follette ranked fifth in social policy, 10th in health policy and management, 12th in public management, and 15th in public policy analysis. 

“The U.S. News and World Report rankings have been around the longest and therefore get the most attention, but it’s worth noting they are reputation-based – faculty’s subjective assessment of their peers – rather than hard, objective indicators of quality,” said Moynihan. “That is why we are seeing the emergence of more and more rankings based on hard data rather than popularity. As someone who believes in evidence-based policy, I see this as a healthy development, giving students objective data on the outstanding research of smaller schools like La Follette.”