New ranking system uses social, research-based criteria

Washington Monthly publishes annual College Guide, ranking institutions providing the “best bang for the buck.”

rankings-collegeA new college ranking system from Washington Monthly magazine takes a different approach to ranking the nation’s colleges and universities while exploring with industry experts the ins and outs of American higher education.

Washington Monthly’s college rankings rate institutions based on three criteria: social mobility, research and civic engagement.

Washington Monthly’s methodology revealed a number of results, including:
• University of California – San Diego ranks No. 1, with the University of California system snagging three of the top five slots.
• Harvard and Stanford are the only two “elite private” universities to make the top 10. Princeton, Yale, Brown and Columbia, all ranked in U.S. News and World Report’s top 10, failed to crack the top 25.
• Sixteen out of the top 20 institutions are public universities.
• Several schools that U.S. News doesn’t even bother to rank, including the University of Texas-El Paso and Indiana State, make the Washington Monthly’s top 30.

The methodology also attempts to rank the colleges that Washington Monthly believes are doing the best job of helping non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices. Schools that do well on this unique “Best Bang for the Buck” ranking range from well-known flagships like Ohio State and University of Washington-Seattle to urban institutions like City University of New York’s Bernard Baruch College to smaller, regional institutions, like historically black Tougaloo College in Mississippi and Berea College in Kentucky.

Also within the pages of the issue, higher education experts provide commentary on some of the challenges facing institutions and students:
• The cost of a college education is rising rapidly while mant state legislatures continue to slash funding for their public institutions.
• Some institutions are not enrolling their “fair share” of students with Pell grants, shutting out low-income students who seek the economic mobility a bachelor’s degree provides.
• Reports of sexual assault are up on campuses and administrators are fumbling as they try to address cases while balancing new regulation from the federal government.

The guide also includes a story identifying the 10 large universities with the greatest potential to graduate more lower-income students receiving Pell grants and the ten that exceed expectations.

“By opening their doors to more low-income students who qualify academically, colleges with Pell enrollment deficits could make a significant dent in helping more high-achieving, low-income students graduate from college,” said Mamie Voight, co-author of the story and director of policy research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. “If more universities worked to increase their Pell enrollment, far more high-achieving, low-income students would stand a fighting chance of earning the college credentials they need.”

In addition, the guide recognizes America’s most innovative college presidents, individuals who are redefining higher education at their institutions by implementing programs to promote affordability, diversity and service. The Top 10 include:
Mark Becker-Georgia State University
Maria Klawe-Harvey Mudd College
Diana Natalicio-University of Texas at El Paso
Michael Crow-Arizona State University
Catharine Bond Hill-Vassar College
Paul LeBlanc-Southern New Hampshire University
Michael Sorrell-Paul Quinn College
John Hitt-University of Central Florida
Sandy Shugart-Valencia College
Cheryl Hyman-City Colleges of Chicago

“Millennials and their parents are furious over the ever-rising price of college,” said Paul Glastris, editor of Washington Monthly. “So it is no surprise that higher education is becoming a hot-button issue of the 2016 campaign season, with presidential candidates offering plans for ‘debt free’ and ‘tuition free’ college.” But those plans won’t work, Glastris notes, without stronger and more competent regulation from Washington, a major theme of the stories in this year’s issue of the College Guide.

Among those stories is an in-depth profile of Louisiana State University President F. King Alexander, who recently testified before Congress that the federal government needs to insist that states support their public universities.

“Education is the great equalizer and our nation’s most critical element to ensuring social mobility,” says Alexander. “When politicians propose cuts to public higher education institutions, they put schools in the position of turning down students. Those suggesting we cut funding don’t realize that higher education is a public good: it benefits society as much as it benefits the individual student.”

The complete 2015 college rankings and feature stories can be found here.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Laura Ascione