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Over 400 companies set up in Hilton Coliseum as part of the Engineering Career Fair on Sept. 19. The fair offered an opportunity for students to meet industry professionals and find potential future employers.

The average high school senior these days is looking to get the best education from the best school teaching their major.

One of the first places a prospective student may turn to is a site like U.S. News.

Recent college rankings from U.S. News put Iowa State at 115th nationally, 40th in engineering, and first in agriculture and biosystems engineering. 

What is often overlooked about these rankings is what goes into them.

Ann Marie VanDerZanden, associate provost for academic programs, explained how college rankings work and what these organizations look for.

The categories that these lists look at include: academic reputation, graduation/retention rate, faculty resources, class sizes, selectivity and alumni donation.

VanDerZanden said Iowa State excels in graduation/retention rate and academic reputation.

She also said, “state funding plays a large part,” and Iowa has recently cut the budget to state universities.

This creates difficulties trying to improve the student to faculty ratio and faculty resources.

While these rankings are important to the school, Sriram Sundararajan, associate dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Engineering, said these rankings are often taken out of context.

“Our focus has been on growth, with growth comes challenges," Sundararajan said. "Buildings can not come up overnight.”

Rapid enrollment increase has been difficult for the school to manage, but it is important to note that rankings have not suffered because of the enrollment.

Sundararajan emphasized the fact that Iowa State is a land-grant university, saying we do not turn away students that meet the minimum requirements of the university.

“We are an access institution, so sometimes we go beyond what the rankings require. We want to make sure we stick true to our land grant mission, so some of those things we don’t do for the sake of just rankings,” Sundararajan said.

VanDerZanden said the main goals Iowa State has as a land-grant university are ensuring affordable education, efficient spending and combining an attractive price with a quality school.

It's Iowa State's "obligation to serve a range of students," VanDerZanden said.

Compared to peers like Purdue, Texas and Minnesota, VanDerZanden said Iowa State stands up to schools ranked higher than Iowa State. She also said the fact that Iowa State is much more affordable makes it a much higher value than any of the peers.

The College of Engineering had a 94 percent job placement after 6 months for 2016 graduates. The school takes pride in being able to place students in the field so quickly, mostly due to the career fair in the fall which is one of the largest in the nation.

A large challenge the school faces is hiring more and better faculty for the school.

Recent budget cuts in the state of Iowa force Iowa State to either cut faculty salary, increase tuition or forego hiring altogether.

Obviously cutting salary will force some faculty to other institutions and growing student enrollment means new staff is required, so the only option is to increase tuition.

Good professors will follow money. Money added to their salary and also money used for their research.

Professors, especially in the College of Engineering, are at Iowa State because their passion is research.

As a member of the Association of American Universities, an elite group of research based universities, Iowa State places a huge emphasis on research. More money spent on research increases Iowa State's rank on these lists.

These money issues sound like a huge problem, but Sundararajan said that Iowa State is going to stick to the mission before anything else.

Iowa State may pay professors less than competing institutions, but , "sometimes they go against the ranking system, we have to stick true to what we believe is important for our institution," Sundararajan said.

The goal of the school is to have a committed, dedicated staff, great department leadership, faculty stewardship, a student centric atmosphere and efficiency, according to Sundararajan.

As a school, Iowa State is efficient with resources. The college asks questions such as: "Are we using the resources we have to maximum efficiency?" or "Are the things we're doing absolutely necessary to improve our college?"

There is still a little room to grow in efficiency. VanDerZanden said Iowa State was the seventh most efficient school in the nation last year.

To improve this, Sundararajan discussed a new strategic plan for the college.

The College of Engineering will be focusing on five key points in the coming years: maximizing student learning, diversity, keeping connections with companies in the industry, academic quality and the student learning experience.

“When people think of engineering, we want people to think about Iowa State,” Sundararajan said.

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