UM main hall stockimage (MIS)

The University of Montana's main hall. 

This fall, University of Montana president Royce Engstrom said the wildlife biology program in Missoula was ranked No. 1 in the United States and Canada by an organization called Academic Analytics.

Last week, Anthony Olejniczak, co-founder and "chief knowledge officer" of Academic Analytics, explained the way that achievement came about. In fact, he said the organization doesn't perform or release rankings the way U.S. News and World report does.

"We aren't really in the business of putting these rankings out there," Olejniczak said. "It's not something that we're focused on, and it's usually not something the institution is focused on."

Rather, Academic Analytics collects data on some 390 major research institutions in the United States and Canada, or every university with at least one Ph.D. program, and not community colleges. Universities that want to see how they're doing compared to their peers pay Academic Analytics to use its toolkit.

The organization evaluates programs based on publications of scholarly works, citations to journal articles, research funding by federal agencies, and faculty awards.

UM isn't a current client, but one of its associates worked with Academic Analytics to look specifically at the wildlife biology program, according to the organization. Olejniczak confirmed the analysis showed UM came out as No. 1 when comparing nationally recognized benchmarks against those of other research institutions.

He also agreed that an institution could self-select variables that push it to a No. 1 ranking, so Montana State University could place itself at the top as well if it chose different measures. However, he said the criteria UM used are considered the default variables.

"It's a robust way to do it," Olejniczak said.

UM spokeswoman Paula Short said the university was an Academic Analytics client for a few years from roughly 2009 to 2013. Financial data from the 2012 and 2013 school year shows the service cost from $45,000 to $50,000 a year for analyses of all programs, not just wildlife biology.

She said UM does not plan to pay for the service this fiscal year: "It’s possible that UM could utilize the services of Academic Analytics in the future."

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Reporter for the Missoulian