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What's the Buzz? Exclusive TrendTopper MediaBuzz Rankings

An exclusive look at the "Higher Education 2013 TrendTopper MediaBuzz Rankings: the Handbook for Higher Education in the Internet Age"
University Business, Feb 2013

In December, Tulane University (La.) announced it had misreported some admissions data for its Freeman School of Business to be used in US News & World Report’s college rankings. Earlier last year, The George Washington University (D.C.) revealed that it also had erroneously reported information to the rankings, as did Emory University (Ga.) and Claremont McKenna College (Calif.). Whether intentional or not, these reporting errors can unfairly skew an institution’s data in the most favorable light. It is little wonder that a number of institutions have rebelled and are refusing to participate in any ranking activity by any agency.

Global Language Monitor began compiling information about college rankings (and ratings) when it noticed a number of biases built into supposedly non-biased studies. It was also interested in applying its advances in understanding the role the internet had begun to play in post-modern decision making. GLM’s goal is to measure colleges according to their “brand equity.” Simply put, brand equity is the value a consumer bestows upon a product. If you have two otherwise identical, competing schools, which is the one consumers will choose, for which they are willing to pay a premium (or dedicate four or more years of their life)?

GLM created the TrendTopper MediaBuzz analysis as a way of seeing the schools through the eyes of the world at large. The methodology encompasses not only the Twitters and YouTubes of the world, but also tens of millions of blogs and billions of web pages, as well as the top global print and electronic media. This enormous sample simply cannot be tampered with because no single institution has the ability to influence, let alone corrupt, data streaming from hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of points of origin.

TrendTopper MediaBuzz utilizes a mathematical model that ‘normalizes’ the data and allows GLM to make statistically-significant comparisons among the various measurements. The end result is a non-biased analytical tool that will allow you to gauge the relative values differing institutions are assigned by consumers, as well as measures of how that value changes over time.

University Business is pleased to present an exclusive look at the "Higher Education 2013 TrendTopper MediaBuzz Rankings: The Handbook for Higher Education in the Internet Age."

Through a series of Brand Equity Index charts, as well as in-depth analysis, you’ll see how colleges and universities around the country place in the public eye. With the release of this edition of the TTMB College Rankings, the Global Language Monitor is beginning to assess the state of MOOCs, and their rising brand equity, if any.

In typical rankings, most institutions’ positions are unaffected by scandal or controversy, as the data is not influenced by public or media perception. In GLM’s TTMB methodology, the rankings do reflect the episodes.

How does controversy impact brand equity? When some years ago, for example, Evian was found to have manipulated the content of its ‘Made in the Alps’ sparkling water, its sales, and consequently brand equity, plummeted about 60 percent, and took years to recover. If measurements are impervious to change in any situation, the measurements could be perceived as inherently weighted toward a certain outcome.

Highlights for Spring 2013—Universities

For the second year in a row, MIT topped Harvard for the top ranking of American universities according to the TrendTopper MediaBuzz ranking of American colleges and universities.

This is only the second time that a technical institute has topped the rankings. However, Harvard narrowed the gap between itself and MIT, which had been the largest ever measured in the history of the TrendTopper Rankings.

Also, this is the second major rankings since the Penn State scandal; the school regained some of the ground it lost since the last analysis moving up 11 spots to No. 39. In the previous TTMB rankings 3.42% of citations had some association with the scandal. In this survey, scandal related citations crept up to 6.8 percent.

Emory University and Claremont McKenna each had SAT misrepresentations since the last survey. Both fell in the rankings. Emory fell from No. 59 to No. 71. Claremont McKenna fell more dramatically from No. 33 to No. 75 in the College Rankings.

This edition is the tenth TrendTopper MediaBuzz ranking over the preceding six years. The rankings are conducted every nine months.

As shown below the University of California, Berkeley made a huge move back into the Top Ten, which ranked as the Top Public University and some thirteen of the Top 25 are now Public Universities. The University of Minnesota gained fifteen spots up to No. 20, while the University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan dropped eleven and twelve spots respectively.

 TTMB colleges

We’ve now witnessed four different schools taking the top spot in the last five years: Harvard, Michigan, Wisconsin, and MIT. GLM’s TrendTopper MediaBuzz analyses provide a fascinating longitudinal study of the US Higher Education system over a most turbulent period.


For the second year in a row, the University of Richmond topped the College Rankings, followed by Bucknell University up two spots.  The rest of the Top 25 underwent significant changes. No. 3 West Point, No. 4 Wellesley College, and No. 5 School of the Art Institute of Chicago, made strides of sixteen, eight and twelve respectively. Middlebury College and Vassar College broke into the Top Ten with gains of six and eleven, respectively. While Babson College jumped sixteen spots and the United States Naval Academy gained eleven.

The Rhode Island School of Design, Swarthmore College, Lafayette College, Bard College, Dickinson College, and Virginia Military Institute all made doubled digit moves into the Top 25, with RISD moving up some 21 spots and Dickinson some 34.

Rise of the MOOCs

With the release of this edition of the TrendTopper MediaBuzz College Rankings, the Global Language Monitor is beginning to assess the state of MOOCs, and their rising brand equity, if any.

moocpieMassive open online courses—MOOCs—are about to cause a sea change in the world of higher education. The New York Times called 2012 the year of the MOOC, and MOOC was one of the top words in the English language for 2012, according to the Global Language Monitor. 

Since the Middle Ages, our mental model for higher education requires a professor teaching a relatively small group of individual students in person. The college they are all part of charges tuition, gives credit and limits enrollment. There have been online courses for years, but they had these same traditional characteristics, with enrollment limited to the number of students who could interact with instructors.

Technology has now empowered education to broaden its reach. Imagine the surprise when Dr. Sebastian Thrun offered his class “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” online – and 150,000 students signed up! These classes are free and carry no credit. There is no possible way to interact with instructors, so students try to organize their own study groups, whether physically or in cyber space. How the course is organized and presented is very important, and c course design may draw from gaming and social media antecedents.

MOOCs enable a scale of and access to learning that has never before been possible. Andrew Ng, a Stanford computer science professor and co-founder of Coursera, had 100,000 students enroll in his online course in machine learning. In an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Ng said that “to reach that many students before, I would have had to teach my normal Stanford class for 250 years.”

The players

Some of the most important organizations in the educational world are already working with this new force. Harvard and MIT joined forces to launch the edX initiative, each contributing $30 million to create the non-profit, open-source platform. They have been joined by the University of California, Berkeley, Georgetown, Wellesley; more than 120 colleges and universities have been in touch. They are clearly leaders and a major force in this revolution.

Two other main players include for-profit Coursera and Udacity. Coursera was started by two computer-science professors from Stanford and already works with the University of Virginia, Princeton, Brown, Duke, Columbia, and more. Udacity was also founded by a Stanford computer-science professor, and works with individual professors rather than institutions. It plans to focus all of its courses on computers and already has 40-full-time employees. It picks instructors for teaching ability not academic research, and job placement is part of the package.

While it is easy to register for a MOOC offered by one of these organizations, it is also easy to drop out. A typical class might register 150,000 sign-ups, but fewer than 70,000 look at the first problem set, and only some 7,000 certificates are awarded at the end of the class. It is not yet clear whether this is the nature of this kind of coursework, or if better course design is needed.

The issues

While the goal of MOOCs is bringing a higher standard of learning and knowledge to a hugely much broader range of students, the whole industry of higher education lives on the idea of testing students to see how much of that knowledge they have actually acquired – and then granting a credential. How much value does attending a MOOC have to a potential employer if the old system of college credits no longer exists? MOOCs are in the process of figuring that out. HarvardX offers “certificates of mastery”; some professors offer certificates from them personally; there are other organizations already working with the course providers on this issue.

What about personal interaction with the instructor? How do people really learn, anyway? Studies suggest that combining computer instruction with traditional classroom instruction can enhance learning. Some participants report that they are much more engaged in the course if they find individuals locally who can meet to discuss the coursework. Some of the those involved in the MOOC industry use terms like “distributed knowledge networks,” “transparent learning,” “fluid knowledge”: at its best, the digital aspect of this kind of learning means that discussions and conversations can happen around the world in all time zones among participants. Another possibility is having less prestigious colleges outsource their teaching to the MOOCs, and instead offer feet on the ground with discussion groups, homework and grades.

How do MOOCs make money? Where are the important revenue points that will allow MOOCs to grow from fascinating to profitable? The revenue model is not yet clear. MIT’s and Harvard’s edX is non-profit, and they plan to give away the software platform they are building. Coursera says it will get a percentage of any revenue generated. Embracing the change before you have figured out all the economics has long been part of the digital model.

Face of the future

Given the number of unknowns about this kind of education, why do we predict that it will cause so much change? We are living in the digital age, and college is about to go virtual. First, consider how the internet destroys traditional businesses that sell information and this includes not only traditional newspapers and magazines, but traditional stock brokers on Wall Street.

Then consider that the higher education system is already in crisis. Traditional colleges and college degrees have become outlandishly expensive and beyond the reach of middle class households. Students graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of debt – only to discover they cannot find any job, let alone one that pays them enough to allow them to pay off their debt.

Besides, if you are a student, who would you rather learn from, a part-time instructor at the community college or a famous Harvard professor recognized as an expert in the field? Technology is now making that expert professor a possibility.

Finally, the cadre of students who are now reaching the halls of higher education have already spent most of their lives online. They are more conducive to online education than were previous generations. This kind of education this way will be second nature to them. They will not be willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars for what technology will allow them to get for free.

The losers

Of courses, prestigious universities with strong endowments will dominate this virtual, global, educational marketplace. They understand that the need to make a massive commitment to technology and have already started to lay the groundwork. They have both the prestige and the money to survive, no matter how the model develops, and furthermore will have the capacity to offer both the online classes as well as continue to offer some kind of residential program. Harvard and MIT will survive this change.

However, smaller, less-well-ranked institutions will find themselves out of customers, and that particularly includes those currently making large financial commitments to bricks and mortar. Even if they are able to create a role for themselves downstream from the great universities and teachers, they will survive only as much smaller, scaled-down organizations. Hundreds or thousands of professors will find themselves on the unemployment line.

Certainly there will be a significant change to the residential, ivied-hall experience. But the number of students who have been able to enjoy that kind of education has been decreasing steadily as the cost of college increased, while, on the other hand, the size of the nontraditional student population has grown tremendously.

While issues with the MOOC model remain, there will be no holding it back. Leading institutions will work out the kinks. Just as the internet has made information resources available at our fingertips that were beyond our wildest dreams a few years ago, and as LinkedIn and Facebook allow us to stay in touch with wide networks of people that otherwise might have disappeared from our lives, and iTunes allows us to assemble libraries of songs bought individually, so MOOCs are going to enable and empower high-quality, inexpensive education in a way we are only beginning to discover.

Brand Affiliation Index with Selected MOOCs

GLM’s Brand Affiliation Index measures the relationship among two branded entities.  In this case GLM analyzed the three major MOOC brands (edX, Udacity and Coursera) with affiliated schools.  The Higher the BAI, the closer the association between the branded entities.  A score of 1000 indicates a 1:1 correspondence.  In the chart below the, the BAIs indicate the existence of the slimmest the affiliations at this point in time, however the relative rankings demonstrate how the MOOC message is being perceived in relations to the schools measured.