How Does Your School Rank?

Watch out U.S News; Washington Monthly is coming for you…and they have an entirely new ranking system.

Let’s face it – college rankings are important to us. They are a good way of figuring out what works and where we want to apply. We also depend on these lists to allow us to either feel superior or inferior about our eventual applications, acceptances and resulting decisions.

In a recent article posted by the editors of Washington Monthly, they write about their very different ranking system. “U.S. News has the right idea,” they say, “they’re just using the wrong data, ranking colleges with crude, easily manipulated measures like alumni giving rates, class size, and that vague survey of reputation.”

Having recently graduated from a university which was placed lower on the U.S. News national ranking system because of low alumni giving rates, placing it much lower than comparable Boston area schools, I know just what Washington Monthly editors are talking about.

In the article, the editors also discuss recent scandals in which Clemson University and University of Florida presidents both lied on their reputational survey for the U.S. News & World Report college rankings. While some saw these scandals as a reason to entirely abolish college rankings, it is clear that we still need a system in place for our information hungry minds, but perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what is actually important to us when we look at these rankings. Perhaps it’s also time to give college presidents incentives to boost their rankings in regard to something other than financial matters.

That’s where the Washington Monthly ranking system comes in. In their own words, it is “a measure of not just what colleges can do for you, but what colleges are doing for the country,” a variation on the famous Kennedy quote. Their criteria for the ranking system are: social mobility, research and services. According to Washington Monthly, the best colleges in America are the ones that work hardest to help economically disadvantaged students, contribute to new scientific discoveries and emphasize service to the community and nation at large. University of California, Berkeley comes in at #1, with UCSD and UCLA coming in at second and third place, respectively.

As someone who paid a great deal of attention to college rankings during and after my college search, I had always thought that these criteria were already a large part of the U.S. News system. Little did I know, but I was seeing America’s colleges represented based on alumni giving rates, status and prestige. Sure, all of that stuff helps when you’re looking for a job or can round out the top of your resume with some prestige and a cherry on top, but what about the colleges that contribute to our country’s academic and scientific progress?

With this new ranking system, there are more public colleges/universities rounding out the top of the list, including the University of California system, which boast high graduation rates and billions in research funding. Other less prestigious state universities beat out world-class private institutions on this new list, owing to their large percentage of Pell Grant qualifying student and participants in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Some private institutions won’t even let ROTC on campus.

In addition, another surprise on this new list is the high rank of several women’s colleges such as Mount Holyoke, Smith, Bryn Mawr and Wellesley, which are much higher up here than their U.S. News positions. Other institutions representing US minorities and underprivileged and low income students are in the Washington Monthly top fifty. Some of these include: Spelman, Morehouse, Dillard University, Fisk University and Berea College.

On the other hand, many institutions that are obsessed with status are much lower in the Washington Monthly list. Their marketing, exclusivity and pursuit of status don’t rank them high this time.

Monthly editors say they are hoping to make their rankings even better than they are today, by putting an emphasis on another extremely important role that colleges should play – helping students learn. They want to assess collegiate learning, reporting back about where students are learning the most.

The Washington Monthly editors have lofty goals to change the way colleges think – from the way they hire professors to what kind of programs they invest in. They don’t only want to change the academic mindset, but society’s attitude as well. Judging by the way we already value these kinds of rankings, however, perhaps these goals are not too far off.

For now, though, what do you think? How big of a role did college rankings play in your application and decision process? What do you think about this new ranking system? Are there any criteria you would add?



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