Boeing unveils a new college ranking system

| Contributing Reporter

Thanks to records on roughly 35,000 engineers, Boeing, a major airplane producer, now has enough data to interpolate which universities have produced the best employees.

Boeing plans to unveil the ranking results to those universities this month.

The ranking system seeks to improve the dialogue on curriculum, performance and Boeing’s ability to build strong relationships with universities, according to Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Richard D. Stephens in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Nick Benassi, assistant dean for public relations in the Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science, reported that Boeing has stayed true to Stephens’ words, and that the company has formed stronger connections with engineering schools.

“The School of Engineering values its partnerships with industry, especially with the Boeing Company,” Benassi said. “Representatives from Boeing were instrumental in the School’s strategic planning effort which brought about important ideas, including a proposed new graduate level degree program in applied systems integration.”

The 2008 U.S. News and World Report Best College Rankings placed the University 12th among national universities and ranked the School of Engineering and Applied Science 38th among engineering schools.

Benassi was proud of the University’s rank but added that rankings ultimately should not determine a student’s decision to attend a university.

“What should matter most to a prospective student is how he or she feels about a particular university when visiting campuses and speaking with students and professors,” he said. “This is the best way to know if a university is the right place for them.”

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Swartwout agreed that companies cannot perfectly rely on such rankings.

“The problem with rankings is that every ranking system is incomplete and imperfect and more importantly, every student has a unique set of goals and needs, and many, many excellent students would be worse off by attending the so-called ‘top-ranked’ engineering school,” Swartwout wrote in an e-mail.

Swartwout pointed out that the Boeing ranking system is very specific to the company, which may not be what is best for the graduates. Furthermore, the rankings apply mainly to the majors of aerospace, mechanical and electrical engineering and computer science.

“So students need to see the ranking for what it is—an imperfect measurement of which schools tend to create good Boeing employees, and that Boeing’s rankings are not one-size-fits-all,” he wrote. “I think that high school students should be extremely careful with any so-called ranking system—Boeing’s included.”

Freshman Bryan Baird, who plans to major in mechanical engineering and possibly minor in aerospace engineering, said he would not give too much weight to a ranking like Boeing’s.

“I don’t think a ranking [by an industrial company] would have affected my application decision very much at all,” Baird said. “I settled on Wash. U. after not only loving the campus, but also discovering how easy and common it is for students to be in the engineering school but still have enough time for a life outside of math and science.”

Baird added that the chance to enjoy a social life and the opportunity to study other subjects such as politics, philosophy and writing serve as a highly important complement to the study of engineering.

“I think Wash. U. embraces this balance incredibly well,” he said.

Gokturk Kuru, a student at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, a school globally recognized for its program in aerospace engineering, had similar concerns about the general university experience.

“There are some disadvantages to studying at a technical university,” Kuru said. “Everyone is an engineer. You want to see psychology majors around.”

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