Gunning For The Honor Roll
Since becoming chancellor in 1995, Mark S. Wrighton has been determined to propel Washington University into the top ranks of U.S. universities. He focused on improving undergraduate recruiting. Give him an A: Last year, there were 20,000 applicants for 1,280 openings. And on August 21, Washington nailed the ninth spot in U.S. News & World Report‘s college rankings, up from 20th in 1995.
From Mark’s original entry:
Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
Mark S. Wrighton is Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis. Since his appointment in 1995, he has overseen the university’s growth in academic stature, research, infrastructure, and fiscal management. WUSTL has risen from #20 to #9 in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings, tied with Dartmouth. The university has a faculty made up almost totally of Ph.D’s. Its incoming students now have an average SAT score of 1400. For 1,280 openings in the fall 2003 entering class, there were 20,000 applications. The WUSTL medical school is now second in the nation and is considered the leader in biomedical engineering. The university has 21 new buildings and nine planned, a $1.5 billion investment. Its recent capital campaign exceeded $1.3 billioin in donations. Mark Wrighton’s challenge when he arrived in St. Louis was to grow a university located outside the nation’s educational mainstream and have it compete with its counterparts in the Ivy League. Wrighton’s focus has been on total quality management that seeks uniform excellence throughout the university and an emphasis on distinguishability that offers students one-of-a-kinds programs and sets the Washington University brand apart.
What was your moment of truth?
Wrighton says that his moment of truth occurred when he arrived in the Midwest after serving as Provost of MIT. He was faced with the challenge of leading and growing a well respected but relatively little known university far from the east coast, to have it compete with larger and world reknowned institutions near the nation’s biggest cities. It was clear that it would be a challenge to attract the right people, to bring students to St. Louis, to raise the necessary funding and to achieve the level of recognition shared by so few institutions outside New York, Boston, and the West Coast. Wrighton has said, “When I came here, my assessment was that Washington University had more momentum than any other major research university. Not only did it have momentum, but the starting point on my arrival was in absolute terms, an institutioni far better, far higher in quality than the rest of the world knew.” A key element of his vision, he said, “was to lift the university’s visibility, focus on a few areas where we could realize greater accomplishment and impact, assist in pushing harder to join the ranks of top-tier universities. There are five or six institutions that top that line,” he says, ticking off Caltech, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, and Princeton. “We wanted to join them and we have.” Assisted by an exceptional Board of Trustees, Wrighton’s team embarked on a mission to hire top faculty members, to endow professorships, to construct new, state-of-the-art buidlings, to attract top researchers and to raise the admissions standards for the student body.
What were the results?
Washington University in St. Louis is now considered one of the nation’s finest institutions of higher learning. U.S. News & World Report ranks it Number 9 in the nation. Its medical school is second behind only John Hopkins School of Medicine. Its School of Social Work is ranked Number 2. Students from all over the nation now compete to enter Washington University and, Wrighton says, its Midwest charm is one of the leading factors attracting top students. “When potential students and their families come to visit us, they almost always decide they would like to come here.” Among the areas where the university has focused its attention is biomedical engineering in which it has assumed a pioneering role. The School of Engineering and Applied Science established this department in 1997, and its investment in top faculty and a new state-of-the-art building has paid off richly. Said Wrighton, “With a great medical school and a strong tradition over a long period of collaboration between technical fields and medicine, Washington University in St. Louis is in a position really to define the field of biomedical engineering which is awaiting that definition. Similar investments in the Schools of Arts & Sciences, Business, Law, Social Work, Art and Architecture have accelerated the university’s ascent.”
What’s your parting tip?
“I set out to assure that every one of our eight schools would have a path to substantial improvement, with the schools defining the areas of focus and distinguishability. We have worked together to build the quality in facilities, students, faculty, and programs so the entire university can be seen as a uniformly excellent institution,” says Wrighton.