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The Academics Of Expansion: The SEC

In the current expansion hubbub, there are a few sites out there — like this one — that have attempted to show how academics will play a role in any shuffling that might take place.

To put it simply, research grants mean dollars pouring into a school.  The better a school’s research partners, the more grant money it will likely have to play with.  Those grants can be awfully big, too.

As we previously pointed out in our “Expounding On Expansion” series, the University of Florida, for example, has a huge athletic budget at more than $100 million.  UF also has an annual research budget that is five times larger ($550 million in most years).  But while Florida’s athletic budget ranks in the top three in the country, its research spending would place it only near the middle of the pack in the academically-respected Big Ten.

US News & World Report is the largest publication each year to rank America’s colleges and universities.  Therefore, whenever anyone starts talking about academics and the role they will play in expansion, those USNWR rankings are quoted.

But much more goes into determining whether or not a school is a good fit with a particular conference.

Below you’ll find that we have tried to create a much broader breakdown of the current BCS schools.  We’ve cobbled together data from a half-dozen sources: Department of Education figures, school websites, major publications like US News & World Report, etc.

We’ve broken down each conference (and Notre Dame) in a number of academic categories.  Those include:

* Percentage of applicants admitted

* Total enrollment

* Undergraduate enrollment

* ACT composites (high and low) to show what types of students a school desires

* Endowment per student (from 2005) which shows the amount of money each school has per student.  This number fluctuates and with the last fiscal year being the worst for college endowments since the Great Depression, the current figures would be smaller than what you will see here.

* Research spending (from 2006).  The numbers you see in our tables need to be multiplied by 1000.  For example, our table shows that Vanderbilt spent $376,893 via research grants in 2006… in actuality, the school spent $376,893,000 in research.  The SEC as a whole spent more than $2 billion.

* AAU membership.  So important to the Big Ten, Pac-10 and schools like Texas, membership in this exclusive club of major universities is a sign of both big research spending and a great reputation.

* US News & World Report most recent college rankings.  USNWR allows ties, so you will see several schools ranked in the same spot.  That’s not a typo.  Tier 3 schools are those that do not rank among the top 125 in the nation (according to USNWR).

The goal of this piece is to provide a broader view of the schools involved in expansion talks.  Some schools focus on undergraduate studies.  Some lean toward post-graduate work and major research projects.  Some are small, some are large.  Some are selective, some are not.  Some have high academic standards, others do not.

More goes into “academic fit” than just one magazine’s rankings.  Looking at the data below, you should be able to compare schools to one another, conferences to one another, and schools to conferences.

We’ve listed the schools alphabetically by conference.  At the bottom of each table you’ll also find that we’ve included the totals and averages for most categories.  (When averaging the USNWR rankings, remember that Tier 3 schools are not included… so the more Tier 3s in a conference, the lower its actual average should be.)

We begin with the Southeastern Conference.

SEC % Admitted Enrollment Undergrad Enrollment ACT Low ACT High Endowment per Student ($) Research Spending ($)x1000 AAU Member US News Ranking
Alabama 60 25,544 21,081 21 27 18,976 35,129 96
Arkansas 58 18,648 14,948 23 28 38,951 99,271 128
Auburn 71 24,137 19,812 22 27 0 126,522 88
Florida 43 51,474 34,654 25 29 13,697 565,491 YES 47
Georgia 55 34,180 25,467 25 29 15,652 323,843 58
Kentucky 77 25,856 18,770 21 27 21,336 323,958 128
LSU 73 28,810 23,396 23 28 8,689 246,093 128
Miss. State 57 17,039 13,208 20 27 0 189,917 Tier 3
Ole Miss 83 15,129 12,682 20 26 16,414 54,217 Tier 3
S. Carolina 59 27,272 18,827 23 28 11,898 153,737 110
Tennessee 71 29,937 21,369 23 28 12,561 240,379 106
Vanderbilt 25 11,847 6,532 30 33 189,936 376,893 YES 17
TOTALS 309,873 230,746 $348,110 $2,735,450B
AVERAGE 61% 25,822 19,228 23 28 $29,009 $227,954M 91

Click below for breakdowns of…
The Big East
The Big Ten and Notre Dame
The Big 12
The Pac-10
Plus a Conference Summary



There is a pretty serious methodological flaw in your US News average rankings measure. You omit the "Tier 3" schools to yield your average. This method artificially inflates the SEC's mean undergraduate ranking relative to the B1G and ACC which have no Tier 3 schools. Correcting this problem leaves the SEC with an average rank of 99.

By the way, the Tier 3 schools you have listed are all technically Tier 1 schools. Many people make the same mistake regarding the USNWR tier structure. That is, they conflate the ideas of graduate tiers and undergraduate tiers. Technically, all "Nationally Ranked" universities are considered Tier 1 schools. "Regionally Ranked" universities are Tier 2 schools. "Liberal Arts" schools are considered Tier 3. With the exception of Villanova, ranked #1 among regional universities, every BCS AQ conference team is a Tier 1 school currently.


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