News Center

News from the Reed College public affairs office

Search: or

Press Release


Media Contact

Beth Sorensen
Office of Communications


High numbers of graduates and productive learning environment cited

The American Institute of Physics reported in the July 2002 edition of AIP Report that, of the more than 500 U.S. institutions offering undergraduate-only physics programs, Reed College in 1998, 1999, and 2000 produced the third-highest average number of physics graduates per year: 17. Reed, with 1,350 students, trails only the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy--which offer primarily technical curricula–in this distinction.

To put this achievement in context, the report found that, in recent years, the average annual number of graduating physics seniors at a U.S. undergraduate-only institutions is 3.2, and that only 7 percent of these physics programs graduate more than 10 per year. Reed's physics department has maintained its high graduation rate over the past decade; its senior class has consistently numbered in the 15-19 range each year since 1990.

Other institutions that granted 10 or more bachelor's degrees in physics included Harvey Mudd (16), the U.S. Military Academy (11), and three colleges in New England: Middlebury, in Vermont (12); Colby, in Maine (12); and Bates, in Maine (12). Two schools in Washington, Whitman College and the University of Puget Sound, granted an average of 10 physics degrees each for the same period.

The National Task Force for Undergraduate Physics visited Reed's physics facilities this year and produced a highly positive profile, which is now posted on their website ( Beyond recognizing Reed's steadily high physics graduation rate–which is even more noteworthy in a period of declining national rates–the task force praised these aspects of Reed's physics program: the graduation average also exceeds 80 percent of that of Ph.D.-granting institutions; the rate of retention for physics majors is very high; a non-competitive "cohesive, supportive, and collegial attitude" pervades the department; undergraduate education, rather than funded research, is the chosen measure of faculty accomplishment; and a close bond is formed between the physics faculty and students that culminates in the unifying senior thesis experience.

The report concluded that "It is difficult for even a casual visitor to the department to come away without an appreciation of the enthusiasm and cohesiveness of the faculty and students in understanding and carrying out the department's mission."

Among many other accomplishments, the visit team cited the well-known textbooks written by physics professor David Griffiths on electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and elementary particles, noting that "the casual and conversational style of his textbooks is in many ways indicative of the teaching style at Reed and suggestive of the department's interest in curricular reform." The report acknowledged the current comprehensive overhaul of the instructional laboratory curriculum: "Like the advanced laboratory improvement of the 1990s, this project represents a significant commitment of effort for a small department, and it is commendable to see such efforts being expended in pursuit of pedagogical enhancements."

Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, is an undergraduate institution of the liberal arts and sciences dedicated to sustaining the highest intellectual standards in the country. With an enrollment of about 1,350 students, Reed ranks third in the undergraduate origins of Ph.D.s in the United States and second in the number of Rhodes scholars from a liberal arts college (31 since 1915).

# # # #