Provost Mary Boyce Announces Release of Two Common Data Sets

As a follow-up to Provost Boyce’s June announcement, the University posted Common Data Set reports for Columbia College/Columbia Engineering, and Columbia General Studies, as well as detail, context, and analysis of the undergraduate experience.

September 09, 2022

The University announced in June that Columbia would begin, starting this fall, to participate in the Common Data Set initiative, an effort by colleges and universities to provide a useful array of data to prospective undergraduates to assist in their college admissions journey. Today we are posting two Common Data Sets, one for Columbia College and Columbia Engineering, and one for Columbia General Studies. A new web page also has been launched to provide additional detail, context, and analysis of the undergraduate experience here at Columbia University.

The information included in the two Common Data Sets reflects the University’s work in recent months to review our data collection processes, following questions raised by a faculty member regarding the accuracy of certain data the University submitted to U.S. News and World Report in 2021 for its ranking of undergraduate universities.

As a result of those questions, the University committed to conducting a thorough assessment of its processes and to making changes wherever warranted. The review proved to be extensive and time consuming, requiring the University to announce in June that we would not submit data to U.S. News for this year’s undergraduate rankings.

Both the Common Data Set and U.S. News require submissions that include more than 100 specific requests and cover thousands of data points. Our review covered all information represented in this year’s Common Data Sets. On two of the metrics questioned by our faculty member, class size and faculty with terminal degrees, we determined we had previously relied on outdated and/or incorrect methodologies. We have changed those methodologies for current and future data submissions, as reflected in the newly posted Common Data Sets.  

Class Size. In some cases, class size data was previously reported incorrectly and not in compliance with the U.S. News instructions. While many of Columbia’s undergraduate classes have long had under 20 students, the prior methodologies used resulted in overreporting the number of classes with under 20 students and underreporting of classes with between 20 and 29 students.  

The data in our newly posted Common Data Sets strictly adhere to Common Data Set instructions as we understand them and reflect the correct number of classes in each of the prescribed categories for the fall 2021 semester. Columbia’s undergraduate programs are designed around a pedagogical commitment to highly interactive engagement among undergraduate students and faculty. As shown in the Common Data Sets, 57% of undergraduate classes had enrollments of under 20 students in fall 2021, 74% under 25 students, and 77% under 30. Our web page provides additional information about the type and size of undergraduate classes at Columbia.  

Faculty with Terminal Degrees. With respect to the number of our full-time faculty who have terminal degrees (which is not always a PhD), our previous methodology relied on the University’s requirements for appointments to a specific faculty rank in a school or discipline. While the vast majority of our faculty have always had terminal degrees, the Common Data Set definitions of terminal degrees in certain disciplines are different from Columbia’s requirements, resulting in some overreporting. We have revised our methodologies to strictly conform to the Common Data Set definitions which show that 95.3% of our full-time faculty have terminal degrees. Details and additional information about our faculty are included on our Common Data Set submissions and accompanying web page.

The Columbia undergraduate experience is and always has been centered around small classes taught by highly accomplished faculty. That fact is unchanged. But anything less than complete accuracy in the data that we report – regardless of the size or the reason – is inconsistent with the standards of excellence to which Columbia holds itself. We deeply regret the deficiencies in our prior reporting and are committed to doing better.

As would be expected following any thorough assessment, we have made a number of other improvements in the way we capture and report data. It is important to note that the information Columbia needs for its own purposes is often not captured and recorded in the same categories as presented in U.S. News or the Common Data Set. The COVID pandemic also created a significant disruption to all facets of university life, meaning that data collected from the past two years may diverge somewhat from a typical academic year.

The Common Data Set instructions are complex and necessarily require interpretation. We have done our best to comply with those instructions as we understand them and the information provided is accurate and complete to the best of our knowledge, as derived from available records relied on by the University. The methodology applied by Columbia to report the data in the Common Data Sets and the compilation of that data from the University’s systems was reviewed by Ankura Consulting Group.

While we will continue to refine and review our methodologies, it is clear that so many aspects of a Columbia education cannot be measured by common denominator-style metrics. Columbia’s stature stems from its history and the faculty, students, education, research, and medical care that define the University. Columbia’s 100-year-old-plus Core Curriculum of philosophy, history, politics, literature, art, music, science and writing provides undergraduate students with a transformational understanding of modern societies. The Core is defined by its rigorous curriculum of small discussion-based classes, which all undergraduates are required to take.

Columbia’s undergraduate story is about the mosaic of its three extraordinary undergraduate programs. Today the University has posted two Common Data Sets to reflect the large overlap, but also important distinctions, between Columbia College and Columbia Engineering, whose undergraduates typically enter Columbia straight from high school, and Columbia General Studies, the only fully integrated undergraduate school in the Ivy League dedicated to serving students who are often described as nontraditional, usually because they have taken a break in their studies, often for work or military service. 

All Columbia students share the extraordinary opportunity to enhance their studies through the unparalleled diversity and energy of New York City. No other college offers students the integration of the highest level of educational excellence in a community with an incomparable offering of professional, career and life experiences.

We hope the information in the Common Data Sets is valuable. The supplemental information provided on the web page is an essential companion to the Common Data Sets. Going forward, we are committed to developing new tools and features for bringing the Columbia undergraduate experience to life.