Not surprisingly, the ratings of doctoral programs in the United States by the National Research Council (NRC 1995) are controversial. Some interpret the ratings as an indicator of relative program quality; others view them as little more than a gauge of the size and age of graduate programs, and still others deem them to be simply a popularity barometer.
Employing data assembled in the NRC report, we examine whether the political science program ratings reflect two general sets of characteristics—the size and the productivity of faculty.
All other things equal, program quality should vary directly with faculty size, and indeed size is emphasized as a key explanatory factor in the NRC report. The logic is straightforward. Very small departments lack the means to field a range of graduate courses of sufficient breadth to form the basis of a serious program. Larger departments enjoy the increased resources that allow for greater program depth and breadth. In addition, holding quality concerns constant, larger programs should on average receive higher ratings simply because they include more faculty.