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geographic considerations / why does the south lag?

December 13, 2010

“So where are the good schools?”
-a relative

Figure1. Top 50 Bashirology Departments.

Above is a map I quickly made of the “top 50” departments in Bashirology1. Based on what I’ve seen of such rankings, it probably looks similar in many other disciplines. To some degree the map may reflect population density. There is a cluster on the east coast and in California and not much in the far plains. What is more curious is the stark difference between the upper Midwest and the South. Big-10 vs. ACC/SEC for sports fans. The two regions have comparable numbers of people, based on my census data estimates. About 6 programs for the south make the list and 12 for the upper-Midwest. This doesn’t seem to be a private winning over public thing. The midwestern schools are mostly public state university’s. It is also the case that 3 or the Souths 6 schools are private. Leaving only 3 public institutions in the south that crack the top 50. So why Iowa and Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois but no Alabama and Georgia, Mississippi or South Carolina?

Perhaps this reflects a difference in poverty levels or K-12 educational attainment between the two regions. Then again maybe it’s just football. A Chronicle of Higher Education article lays out some of the SECs issues with regards to sports football and academic spending. It’s a bit long but very interesting. Actually the first comment is one of the more telling bits in this.

While it is important to recognize that universities can budget expenses differently, another telling calculation is the amount of athletics expenditures as a percentage of instructional expenditures:

Athletics Expenses as percentage of Instructional Expenses (ranked in descending order)
58% U. of Arkansas at Fayetteville
44% U. of Alabama at Tuscaloosa
40% Auburn U.
34% Louisiana State U. at Baton Rouge
34% Mississippi State U.
33% U. of Georgia
33% U. of Mississippi
28% U. of South Carolina at Columbia
26% U. of Kentucky
21% U. of Tennessee at Knoxville
18% U. of Florida
7% Vanderbilt U.

Florida and Vanderbilt just happen to be the only two SEC schools on the Top 50 map (also only two in the AAU). For comparison purposed the Big 10 has 11. These are blunt measure certainly, but the magnitude of the difference is striking.2

It leaves the question of why so few southern universities are any of the “good schools”3.

1. Standard rankings disclaimer.
2. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of stats available. For more go to
3. FYI, I am a native southerner.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2010 8:40 am

    Can you make a similar map of the high school graduation rates in _feeder_ schools to these state universities and see if there is any correlation?

    Nice blog.

  2. Jeff permalink
    December 14, 2010 8:50 am

    Very interesting take. Technically now, the Big 10 has 12 AAU members (with the addition of U of Nebraska-Lincoln)

    • December 14, 2010 9:46 am

      That’s right, all this shifting of conferences is hard to follow.

  3. BikeMonkey permalink
    December 14, 2010 10:08 pm

    Seriously? Do you wonder there are regional differences in the investment in higher Ed?

  4. December 15, 2010 10:23 am

    As having grown up in SEC country (nearby USC and UGA), a lot of those kids have better attendance at football games than classes. The universities will build Taj Mahals for their football programs while academic buildings are left in disrepair.

  5. December 15, 2010 2:24 pm

    Those stats of the percentages of money spent on athletics vs education are VERY telling.
    Great post. Thanks for sharing

  6. December 15, 2010 8:37 pm

    Great blogpost. Not being from around here (the US) I wonder if it might have something to do with the economics of how universities get their funds. I had dinner with a friend who is a prof at a southern US university and he mentioned how the university gets money for tuition but that gets dumped into the state fund. This fund is then divided at the discretion of the government and the money apparently goes to the richest university. Although enrollment at their university had almost tripled, they see none of the benefit of the increased tuition. How do other states fund public universities?

  7. December 16, 2010 9:04 pm

    Hi Bashir, I’m just here to say nice job!
    I remember trying to find your blog when you first started commenting over at my place, but I don’t remember finding it… I’m glad you are writing and it’s some interesting stuff indeed! Looking forward to reading more.


  1. Blogrolling: Bashir | DrugMonkey
  2. A quick revisit down South « Bashir

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