Washington Monthly's take on college rankings
Washington Monthly, a magazine with unusually robust higher education coverage, today released its own attempt at a ranking of colleges and universities.
The magazine is a relatively new entrant to the rankings field, which has become very crowded in recent years.
The trick is to offer something different than U.S. News & World Report, whose rankings stress reputation, graduation rates, test scores and other measures that produce a fairly predictable list of well-endowed and prestigious universities. At its genesis in the 1980s, a simple formula that yielded a ranking with Harvard, Princeton and Yale at the top made all the sense in the world, a gratifying affirmation of common wisdom. Three decades later, the approach is a magnet for criticism: the rankings are seen by some as telling college customers something they already know.
Washington Monthly rates and ranks colleges "based on their contribution to the public good," and in three categories: "Social Mobility (recruiting and graduating low-income students), Research (producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs), and Service (encouraging students to give something back to their country)."
(Whether those criteria ought to be the basis for choosing a college is a topic for another day.)
The ranking yields unusual results. Public universities fare well, because of their strength in research and fairly high marks for serving low-income students. Three University of California campuses, in San Diego (!), Berkeley and Los Angeles, rank 1-2-3 among national universities by the WaMo formula. Harvard ranks ninth, Yale 33rd.
The College of William and Mary ranks a very respectable 10th on that list, partly because of its second-in-the-nation ranking for producing Peace Corps volunteers. (Who knew?) Georgetown ranks 19th.
Morehouse College, a historically black institution in Georgia, trumps Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore to top the Washington Monthly list of liberal arts colleges, because of the school's tremendous success in graduating low-income students. Roughly two-thirds of Morehouse students receive Pell grants because of low-income backgrounds, and about two-thirds of students graduate -- a very high rate for a school with so many disadvantaged students. Spelman College in the same state also makes the top 10, for similar reasons.
Mary Baldwin College in Virginia and Loyola University Maryland make the top 10 of a third Washington Monthly list devoted to master's-level institutions.
The University of the District of Columbia cracks the top 10 of a less estimable list, of colleges regarded as "dropout factories." UDC has a graduation rate below 10 percent.
Forbes jumped into the rankings game two years ago, with rankings that -- for better or worse -- emphasize different things. One quarter of their score is based on how students rate their professors on www.ratemyprofessor.com. (This is a tricky proposition, because students at very good colleges can be very harsh in appraising their professors.) Another quarter is based on how many alumni are listed in Who's Who in America.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni introduced collegiate ratings -- not really rankings -- last year, along with Washington Monthly.
ACTA's point was that colleges should require students to take a core curriculum, so that they complete their degree with firm footing in math, science, composition and other essentials.
Does College Inc. come up garbled on your Blackberry? Try this address, and bookmark it for easy access.
Daniel de Vise
August 23, 2010; 12:39 PM ET
Categories: Administration , Admissions , Liberal Arts , Pedagogy , Rankings | Tags: ACTA rankings, Forbes rankings, US News rankings, Washington Monthly rankings, college rankings
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