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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 (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.

By 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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The University of California at San Diego has residential colleges, very much like Yale and Harvard. It's not overly large. It's surrounded by estimable scientific institutions (Scripps Oceanographic is part of the university). I probably shouldn't mention that there's excellent surfing spots more or less across the street. If there's any surprise, it might perhaps be that students and parents neglect UCSD in favor of Berkeley and UCLA.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | August 23, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Rankings -- whether from US News, Washington Monthly or any other publication -- are helpful in giving applicants a sense of where colleges fit, compared to one another, with respect to standardized test scores, admission rates, reputation and graduation rates; some even rank party schools, beautiful campuses and accessible professors.

But for high school students and parents to nitpick between a college ranked #32 and, say, #42, on any list is silly at best – and plain stupid at worst. Applicants need to visit colleges and get a feel for campuses, current students and surroundings. They should talk to friends or ask their school counselors for advice. And then create their own rank of colleges that are best for them.

Marc Zawel
Co-founder, EqualApp

Posted by: mzawel | August 23, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm very sorry to read about UDC's ranking. I graduated from there in 1997 after many years of part-time study. It wasn't my first choice but family circumstances made it my only choice. The program that allows District students entrance into any state college at in-state prices has lowered the already low knowledge level of students who apply to UDC. Don't so much blame UDC as blame the DC public schools who feed their low achieving students into it.

Posted by: summer55 | August 23, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

This isn't exactly a surprise to any resident in DC. The 10% graduation rate is bad enough...even worse considering thats the 6 year graduation rate. Yeah...after 6 years, they can only get 10% of ~1200 member class to graduate.

Not that the degree is worth the paper it is printed on. Online degree mills command greater respect. How many times in the past decade have UDC programs lost their accrediation? A dozen?

And for all this...the DC Tax payers spend 50 million dollars a year subsidizing this embarrasing crap hole of "higher" education, all so 130 kids a year can graduate. The DC Tax payer spends 98K per year, per student who will actually graduate, all so they can get a degree woth less than the Charmin extra fluffly TP I wipe my rear end with.

This of course doesn't even cover the full price of UDC. Kids have to pay tuition and the DC Government has given UDC hundreds of millions in property and real estate scott free (like they did this past May), all on the backs of the few people in DC who actually pay taxes.

That place is not just am embarrasment, but a fiscal drain at every angle. Shut it down.

Posted by: Nosh1 | August 23, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Nosh 1,

You consistently come on here spewing your disgusting waste of words on a university that you absolutely know nothing about. UDC has never lost its accreditation from the Middle States Commission of Higher Education. Please tell me the "dozen" of times that UDC has lost its accreditation?

The graduation rate does not include any student that starts at a school as a part-time student. Since more than 50% of UDC students are enrolled part-time, the graduation data is not including a significant part of UDC’s student population. Now, I’m not even sure where you conjured up your “130” kids that graduate in a year from. Then again, what can anyone expect from somebody that hasn’t learned proper researching skills from whatever institution that you paid $100k to attend?

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with UDC is the consistent financial mismanagement, poor vision and decision making skills of the UDC Administration. If the university had a stronger administration that actually embraced the original mission of the university, you would have seen UDC soar by now.

In the future, when formulation your opinion, please derive it based on facts and not just misinformation coupled with your own personal prejudices.

Posted by: DCReddz | August 23, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

@DCReddz: A quick Google search will tell you UDC's nursing program and law school recently lost accreditation. UDC's law school is currently provisionally accredited, but they have been unsuccessful in earning full accreditation from the ABA.

Posted by: MasonPatriot1 | August 23, 2010 8:14 PM | Report abuse

@DCReddz: A quick Google search will tell you UDC's nursing program and law school recently lost accreditation. UDC's law school is currently provisionally accredited, but they have been unsuccessful in earning full accreditation from the ABA.

Posted by: MasonPatriot1 | August 23, 2010 8:18 PM | Report abuse

UDC is a blight on Van Ness.

It should be bulldozed.

Posted by: kenk3 | August 23, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

Anyone else see the amusement in the fact that Wilson HS, now at UDC for the year, is an infinitely more collegial place than the "university" it is occupying. (and if ranked as a university would be guaranteed to outrank UDC)

Posted by: bouncinggorilla | August 24, 2010 6:54 AM | Report abuse


UDC Law School was fully accredited in 2005, my second year there. (

It was ranked 10th in the nation this year for its clinical programs, where all of the school's students learn by doing public interest work.

- Marc
(a UDC law school alumnus)

Posted by: borbely1 | August 24, 2010 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Such a ranking illustrates the need and good HBUCs continue to do, particulary those Black colleges like Spelman, Morehouse, Hampton that are able to compete with their counterparts.

Posted by: themadrepublican | August 24, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse


Here we go again with the misinformation. UDC’s nursing programs are fully accredited by the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission Inc. Contrary to your statement, UDC’s nursing program is known for producing some of the best nurses in the DC Metro area.

Yes the law school went under a period of provisional accreditation when it merged with the actual university (1995) in which caused the restart of the accreditation process. However, the Law School has been fully accreditated ever since 2005.

In the future, please do us a favor and provide your source links next time you decide to post nonsense.

Posted by: DCReddz | August 24, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Thank goodness for UDC... i was a working adult in a blue collar job that could not get into any other local university in DC even if I had the $15,000-$20,000 per semester tuition.

Luckily I was admitted to UDC in 1991, and I could afford the extremely low tuition since I was working full time while I attended full time. It took me six years, but I graduated in 1997 with a BS in Computer Science. I was then offered a scholarship to the University of Notre Dame where I got a master's degree.

I am currently a professional computer protecting our military networks from hackers and providing them technical support.

A society has to ask itself is it worth it to provide an opportunity for some of its disadvantages members to reach their full potential even if the majority of those who try don't. In mine and many other cases, I know it is worth it. Without UDC, I'm facing a lifetime of menial work. With UDC I am a proud, productive, high tax-paying, giving back to the community type citizen!

Posted by: cornbread_jones | August 24, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

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