Penn State's reputation dodges a bullet

A students walks in front of the Old Main building on the Penn State campus Friday, Nov. 11, 2011, in State College, Pa. The Penn State University board of trustees who fired legendary football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier are meeting Friday in the wake of the massive shakeup prompted by a child sex-abuse scandal.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

(MoneyWatch) The sex-abuse football scandal that rocked Penn State University last year hasn't made much of a dent in its online reputation.

That's the conclusion of a new survey from the Global Language Monitor, a media research company that tracks the frequency with which words and phrases appear in print, electronic media, and online. The firm measures the real-time movement of a consumer product or an institution's brand equity by capturing mentions of it in articles, blog posts, tweets, and elsewhere.

Global Language Monitor's latest study was the first conducted since the Penn State controversy. The firm was interested in discovering if the scandal would result in more negative publicity for the university on the web. Surprisingly, the number of Penn State citations dropped during the nine-month period that the firm tracked the school, with only 3.42 percent of its global citations included mentions of the scandal. This allowed Penn State to hold onto its respectable media buzz ranking.

Paul Payack, the president of Global Language Monitor, suggested that Penn State remained in the top 50 schools because the research institution is so much bigger than football. Most people around the world, he noted, have never heard of Joe Paterno or know anything about the university's football team. "Penn State has countless global activities so it would be really hard to move the needle."

Among 210 universities measured, Penn State came in 50th, ahead of such institutions as the University of Notre Dame, University of Florida, University of Colorado, Tufts University, and Dartmouth College. GLM suggested that Penn State's experience was similar to that of Harvard University, which emerged with it reputation intact after its endowment plummeted a few years ago. During the previous two surveys, which are conducted every nine months, Penn State came in No. 13 and No. 24.  

University with the biggest buzz

So what university generated the most media buzz in the latest survey? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The firm credits MIT's popular OpenCourseWare programs with giving it tremendous buzz. The popular OpenCourseWare allows Americans online access to many MIT courses for free.

According to GLM, here are the 15 universities with the greatest buzz along with their previous rankings: