Who's number one? The quintessential American question. We all want to stand first in line, first in the hearts of our country, first in the polls, first in the standings. The pursuit of Number One is surely an important thing in sports, but for universities, being first is not as important as being among the best.

The twenty-first century shows no lessening of interest among researchers, institutions, donors, boards of trustees, and governments in using various university rankings to assess the performance of higher education institutions. Most national research universities measure themselves on a wide range of dimensions that the institutions believe important for determining improvement and success. At the same time, no single indicator or composite number accurately represents what an individual institution has done, can do, or will do. To improve the quality and productivity of a major national research university, its faculty, students, staff, and supporters need to follow a number of indicators that, taken together, give a reasonable approximation of accomplishment and strength relative to the best universities in the country.

Many indicators serve this purpose, but most observers know that research matters more than anything else in defining the nation’s best institutions. In its annual reports, The MUP Center provides both the total research and development expenditures and the highly-competitive federally sponsored research and development expenditures as indicators of research scale. While the dollars give a good approximation of research activity, it is the faculty who provide the critical resource for university success, and The MUP Center reports the number of members of the National Academies among an institution's faculty along with the number of significant faculty awards earned as indicators of faculty distinction. Students provide a double indicator by reflecting both the externally perceived quality of the institution and providing with their own credentials an important contribution to that quality. For the graduate and research instructional dimension, The MUP Center provides the number of doctorates awarded and the number of postdoctoral appointments supported; and The MUP Center offers median SAT scores as indicators of undergraduate student competitiveness.

Both private and public universities live on the resources generated from many sources, but critical to their success are the size of their endowments and annual giving. Endowment reflects the long-term strength of accumulated private support and in some cases institutional savings that delivers revenue to important purposes every year. Annual giving provides an indicator of the current level of an institution's private contributions both to current expenses and towards increased endowment. By including both indicators, The MUP Center gains the opportunity to note historical and emerging strength in private support for research universities.

The MUP Center's annual report, The Top American Research Universities, offers analysis and data useful for understanding American research university performance. A key feature of this report (available online and in print) is The MUP Center's classification of universities into groups based upon the nine quality indicators described above. Institutions that have more than $40 million in annual federal research expenditures and that rank within the top 25 on at least one of the nine measures fall into our definition of a top research university. In this publication, we also present a second group of institutions--those ranking 26-50 on at least one of the same nine measures.

The Top American Research Universities provides a comprehensive set of data on over 650 institutions, and this annual report usually includes an analytical discussion of topics related to research university performance. In addition, the staff of The MUP Center contribute to a variety of other on-going conversations about the future of the American research university within a context that includes both American higher education and the expanding universe of global higher education institutions. Some of that work appears listed in the publications section of this site.
The MUP Center's online American Research University Data provides a comprehensive set of data on over 650 institutions. All of the data developed for this project appear in Excel spreadsheet form because different observers will have different interests or will need to construct alternative analyses.

The basic data used for The MUP Center's Top American Research Universities project, obtained from federal agencies and national organizations, often contain information on single campus institutions, multiple campus institutions, and state university systems, but without clearly identifying the distinctions. This makes national comparisons difficult and unreliable. To increase the validity and usefulness of these data, especially for comparisons over time, the MUP Center, adjusts the reported figures, when necessary, to ensure that all data represent the strength of a single campus institution. There are some complexities in this process since many campuses have satellite institutions, medical centers with complex relationships to the main campus, sponsor separately administered research centers, or belong to multi-institutional public systems. The MUP Center looks first to the current NSF classifications, which currently tend to match our historical understanding of single campus institutions. In a few instances an institution will merge with another, restructure its medical operations to embed them more fully into the main campus, or make other substantial changes in their organizational structures. Whenever such significant changes occur, the staff of the MUP Center, with the advice of its Advisory Board, may accept a redefinition of a campus entity. In such cases, the data notes will describe the change and the rationale. The Data Notes also outline any other adjustments from published national sources.
The MUP Center presents a new report on The Top American Research Universities each year. The previous editions of the publication along with data from previous years appear on The MUP Center website for reference purposes.

The MUP Center's major research and publication effort began in 1999-2000 within the context of The Lombardi Program on Measuring University Performance, an activity supported by the University of Florida and a generous gift from Mr. Lewis M. Schott to the University of Florida Foundation. Drawing on the experience of developing an institution specific series called Measuring University Performance (occasional papers published by the Office of Institutional Research, University of Florida) the MUP Center’s program of research studies has focused on critical elements of university management. The MUP Center’s staff also has a keen interest in management variables, for it is clear that well managed institutions can extract significantly greater marginal revenue from existing resources. Other studies seek to understand relationships that affect resource acquisition. The MUP Center publishes a series of papers and its staff writes for a variety of other publications on topics related to its mission. Some of this work is listed in the publications section of this website.

Originally developed to guide improvement at the University of Florida during the 1990s and later adapted to different institutional contexts at UMass Amherst, Arizona State University, and the University at Buffalo, the effectiveness of these techniques brought national attention and a commitment to translate the methodology from particular implementations at various universities to a general data driven perspective applicable to any research university.

The MUP Center currently resides at the University of Massachusetts Amherst with the co-sponsorship of the University of Florida, and the continuing support from the University at Buffalo. Arizona State University served as a much appreciated co-sponsor of this project during the period 2006-2018. In addition, The United Nations University International Institute for Software Technology and The MUP Center founded and lead what was known as the Global Research Benchmarking System, a project intended to provide objective data and analyses to benchmark research performance in traditional disciplinary subject areas and in interdisciplinary areas for the purpose of strengthening the quality and impact of research. Currently this project is no longer active although its website remains available. The MUP Center's data and analysis have attracted considerable attention around the country, and The MUP Center (with support from the GTE Foundation) participated with a number of institutions and individuals in the United States and abroad in discussions about incentive and reward systems that lead to improved university performance. The Center for Measuring University Performance (MUP) relies heavily on the initiative and insight of its advisory board and draws on the insight and recommendations of many colleagues throughout the country who contribute data, information, and perspective.

Requests for a printed copy (copies) should be sent as an email to Lynne Collis at the MUP Center . We provide printed copies free to educational, research, and other public or non-profit organizations, but we ask that institutions provide the postage via FedEx or UPS account number or pre-paid shipping label. Comments and suggestions can be sent to the other members of our staff.

The Center for Measuring University Performance
UMass Amherst and University of Florida
W.E.B. Du Bois Library, UMass Amherst, MA 01003-9275