Start-up days: South Hall and North Hall, circa 1874

UC Berkeley wasn’t always what you see today.

In 1868, and for some years thereafter, it was just a start-up.

Now, after 144 years of climbing and accomplishment, Berkeley is, by a wide spectrum of measures, a world leader. Earlier this year, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings named Berkeley as one of “an elite Anglo-American cadre of six global university ‘super-brands’ riding well ahead of the chasing pack and reaping the multiple rewards associated with being the world’s best in teaching and research.”

#1 for tech

From those small-and-humble beginnings in much simpler times, Berkeley has become dominant not only in basic, established disciplines, but in fields that were nonexistent and beyond the imagination back then.

Example: UC Berkeley is one of five universities that have founded two-thirds of the biotechnology companies in California.  In addition, the profound influence of Berkeley faculty, students, and alumni on information technology and the computer industry is widely acknowledged.

The most recently issued tech ranking was published online in June 2012 by Network World, the weekly information technology journal for executives.  It rates the “Ten Top Colleges for Tech CEOs.”  The article’s subtitle reads: “Surprise, the #1 pick isn’t Harvard, Stanford, or MIT.”

Illustration from Network World, June 2012

Yes, it’s Berkeley.

Despite its laid-back, hippie image,” says NW, reporting from Massachusetts, “the University of California at Berkeley is the No. 1 university for producing U.S. tech industry CEOs. Among the 81 degrees obtained by top tech CEOs, Berkeley represents five of them — more than any other school on our list.”  NW went on to name some names: “Graduates include Paul Jacobs, CEO and chairman of Qualcomm, who holds three degrees from Berkeley: bachelor’s [’84], master’s [’86] and doctorate [’89] degrees in electrical engineering. Another graduate of Berkeley is Paul Otellini, CEO and president of Intel, who holds an M.B.A. [’74] from the Haas School of Business, as does Shantanu Narayen [M.B.A. ’93], CEO and president of Adobe.”

(For what it’s worth, so to speak, Berkeley tied for 9th place among U.S. universities that have produced the largest number of living billionaires, with nine alumni in that category as of Forbes magazine’s count in 2008.)

By other measures, in the nation and the world

By 1995, the National Research Council had ranked Berkeley’s graduate programs top in the nation for three consecutive decades.

In 2010, in revisited, revised, and complexly nuanced National Research Council rankings, 48 Berkeley doctoral programs (out of the 52 surveyed) ranged into the top 10 nationwide.

The Shanghai Jiao Tong University, in its 2011 Academic Ranking of World Universities, placed Berkeley 4th in the world.

Another yardstick: consistently the most NSF Fellows

NSF logoOver the last decade, the National Science Foundation awarded more of its Graduate Research Fellowships to students aimed at Berkeley than to those headed for any other university in the nation.  When the students applied for the fellowship, they indicated Berkeley as their first-choice institution.

When the 1,350 successful applicants applied for this year’s fellowship, 14 percent indicated Berkeley as their top-choice graduate school.

Second, third, and fourth were MIT, Stanford, and Harvard, respectively.

One of the many NSF-supported students on the Berkeley campus, Peter Soler is a doctoral candidate in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. His research is aimed at developing an implantable bioartificial kidney, a device that could improve the quality of life, and reduce cost, for patients with end-stage renal disease. (photo: Dick Corten)

Entrepreneurial and hipster

Rankings are popular among readers and, since they bring eyes to publications and websites, publishers love them. serializes its rankings, a category at a time.  Two of the more recent were its “Top Ten for Entrepreneurs” (in which the Haas School of Business came in at #4) and “Top Ten Most College Magazine top tenHipster,” wherein the Berkeley campus ranked #7.   According to the website, “Fashion rules once again: UC Berkeley is a top-rated college for shopping, and while it fills plenty of other hipster-approved criteria, this one may be the most impressive. Fourth Street boasts a huge variety of unique shops that sell art, jewelry, clothing, stationery, lingerie and specialty items (plus tons of restaurants), making Fourth Street the ultimate weekend destination for students. Berkeley is also top-rated for vegetarian food options, offers fine arts degrees and has a strong student radio station – what’s not to love?”