Opinion: Clarion Call

Call. 34: Study Rates N.C. Public Universities Second-Least Rigorous in Country

A study by South Carolina Representative Harry C. Stille has rated North Carolina’s public four-year universities the second worst in the nation in academic rigor. Stille’s home state was the only state with poorer academic rigor, according to the study.

Stille’s study created a score of academic rigor based on students’ SAT or ACT scores, retention and graduation rates. It compared 1991 freshmen at four-year, public universities for 1992 sophomore retention and 1997 graduation rates (six-year). “Rigor rate scores” were derived by subtracting each school’s national rank on the SAT/ACT average scores from its national rank on sophomores’ six-year graduation rates. This methodology penalized schools with high sophomore retention and graduation rates and low average SAT/ACT scores. The assumption is that students in those schools “were awarded degrees with less effort on their part due to poorer academic ability.” In other words, the study assumes that schools that enroll less academically gifted (as measured by admissions-test scores) students and are able to retain and even graduate them must not be rigorous, or else these poorer students would have dropped out at higher rates.

The following are the states with the most rigorous public higher-education institutions and the states with the least rigorous institutions based on Stille’s study. Column A is the sophomore six-year graduation national rank, Column B is the SAT/ACT national rank, and Column C is the SAT/ACT average score. The rigor rate score is obtained by subtracting Column B from Column A.

Most rigorous states

State A B C Rigor rate score

1. Idaho 49 17.5 (1018) – 31.5
2. Montana 34 4.5 (1039) – 29.5
3. Alaska 50 22.0 (1012) – 28.0
– Nebraska 39 11.0 (1024) – 28.0
5. Missouri 38 12.5 (1022) – 25.5
– Oregon 30 4.5 (1045) – 25.5
– Utah 43 18.0 (1015) – 25.5

Least rigorous states

State A B C Rigor rate score

46. Pennsylvania 8 34.0 (990) -26.0
47. Florida 10 38.0 (986) -28.0
48. Delaware 2 31.5 (1000) -29.5
49. No. Carolina 6 43.0 (971) -37.0
50. So. Carolina 10 49.0 (947) -39.0

Although Stille’s study puts the rigor of the UNC system in a bad light, its methodology should be investigated. At the very least, however, it raises concerns about the academic rigor of N.C.’s public universities and calls for further scrutiny.