Anthony Hennen of the Martin Center highlights the difficulty of assessing writing programs at colleges and universities.

The list of top-rated college writing programs is dominated by private institutions. But North Carolina State University is one of only a few public universities to break through. It is well-respected for how it teaches writing. According to a 2017 U.S News & World Report poll, NC State’s writing program is #12 in the nation alongside Duke (#5), Harvard (#10), and Princeton (#13).

Clearly, NC State is well regarded by its peers for its writing program. Pamela Flash, co-director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Writing and the director of their Writing-Enriched Curriculum program, called the work done at NC State “very formative” in how she developed her school’s WEC. “We owe a debt of gratitude to NC State for the modeling that they did…I just take my hat off to them whenever I can,” she said.

However, one problem is that the ranking is based on the opinions of college administrators rather than any sort of empirical data. That data is hard to come by, so it is difficult to know how truly effective a college writing program is at preparing students for post-grad life. Measurement is burdensome. The quality of students entering the university can affect outcomes. And student effort is as important as faculty or institutional effort. Until students enter the workforce, it may be hard to know how good they really are at communicating—and gathering information post-graduation to draw conclusions about writing programs can be a daunting task.