With the increasing number of college rankings available, it’s easy to forget that the US News Best College Rankings reigned without competition for 20 years. In 2005, The Washington Monthly published its alternative college rankings designed to evaluate the value of colleges as a social institution. For 10 years, The Washington Monthly College Rankings have been asking what can colleges do for society rather than ranking them on the quality of their students.
Generally speaking, The Washington Monthly considers three areas for its rankings. The first is social mobility-do the schools graduate students at a reasonable price? Given that the majority of colleges are either public or non-profit institutions, this should be a given. It’s The Washington Monthly rankings that introduced the concept of expected graduation rates.
The second area has to do with the college’s role in economic growth and contributing to human knowledge. This is measured in terms of research and information on advanced degrees. The third area is service. Do the colleges encourage students to give back to or serve the community? These measures include participation in ROTC and the Peace Corp.
Measuring colleges by these factors generates a very different looking set of college rankings. Among the top 10 National Universities, only two show up on The Washington Monthly’s and US News’ lists–Stanford and Harvard. Only four are in the top 20 for both lists.
In the case of national Liberal Arts Colleges, four colleges are on the top 10 in both lists, 12 for the top 20. Just goes to show you can eliminate reputation from the rankings and still see some familiar faces–maybe because their reputations are actually well deserved.
While The Washington Monthly college rankings have done an admirable job of highlighting the limitations of the US News rankings, they are not without their own limitations. The Washington Monthly rankings give equal weight to all three areas considered. This means that some schools that are actually pretty expensive and without generous financial aid rank fairly high. Given that students are supposed to be the primary focus of colleges, I would like to see that area weighted more heavily.
There are other issues as well with the rankings. However, unlike US News Best College Rankings, you can visit The Washington Monthly website and view all of the information without paying. In the table below, I list the 109 50-50 colleges that ranked in the top 75 of The Washington Monthly’s college rankings.
Just looking at this limited selection of schools illustrates some of the methodologies limitations. Among all private colleges, the average net price for families with incomes of less than $30,000 is $17,520. In the table below, 18 schools had an average net price of over $20,000 for this income category.
The average percentage of freshman taking out non-federal loans is 9.5% for private schools for an average of $11,591. There are 14 50-50 schools where 10% or more of freshman taking loans averaging $12,000 or more. Other schools are in the bottom 5% of the nation in the percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants. Just how much should economic and service contributions off-set limited access to education opportunity?
The table below uses information that may not be from the same year as used by Washington Monthly to calculate the rankings. As usual, the four-year graduation rate is used for private schools and the five-year rate for public.
50-50 Colleges in the Top 75 of the Washington Monthly College Rankings
(Download PDF version)
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