Washington Monthly Takes Swipe at US News’ College Rankings

Washington Monthly Takes Swipe at US News’ College Rankings
  • Opening Intro -

    Who hasn't read the college rankings offered by various established sources and wondered how that information is collected and ranked?


Moreover, who hasn’t questioned the results of these surveys, perhaps wondering why certain well-endowed academic institutions seem to always rank at or near the top?

College Rankings Survey/Guide

Well, Washington Monthly, a bi-monthly magazine founded in 1969 that seeks to offer innovative solutions to complex problems — particularly where cynics often tread — has taken on the college rankings served up by U.S. News & World Report. And they’re not simply debunking U.S. News and leaving it at that: the magazine has assembled its own rankings survey, basing it on four factors that go well beyond financial coffers and prestige.

These four factors are: institutions that contribute to society, enroll low-income students, help these students graduate and don’t charge them an arm and a leg to attend.

UCSD Finished First…Again

Finishing on top of this year’s national list was the University of California-San Diego, the fourth consecutive year that UCSD finished first. UCSD was followed by Cal-Riverside, Texas A&M University, Case Western Reserve and Cal-Berkeley. Stanford, the University of Texas at El Paso, Harvard, Georgia Tech and UCLA took the sixth through tenth spots.

This year’s survey (guide) also features an exclusive list of “Best Bang for the Buck Colleges“, schools that do the best job helping non-wealthy students earn degrees that matters at prices that they can afford.

Topping the list was the University of Florida, where 29 percent of the students receive federal Pell grants and 84 percent graduate. The university’s net price for attending was just $4,132 for the year, by far the lowest average among the surveyed colleges and universities. Florida was followed by the University of Georgia, coming in with a 22 percent Pell grant rate, an 82 percent graduation rate and a net annual cost of $6,335. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had one of the highest graduation rates, 89 percent, with 20 percent of its students receiving Pell grants. The cost for attending UNC was $6,949.

What About Community Colleges?

The guide also looks at our nation’s community colleges though its “America’s Best Community Colleges” category. Washington Monthly notes that these types of schools are rarely evaluated and when those evaluations are released the focus in often on the lowest performing schools.

Among the top community (technical) colleges are: Saint Paul College in Minnesota, North Florida Community College, and North Dakota State College of Science. Categories examined included academic challenge, student-faculty interaction, support for learning, retention and transfer rates and credentials awarded.

Back Stories Revealed

The Washington Monthly also developed several stories related to this year’s guide, answering some questions that have dogged academics and policy makers alike including: How did Ohio colleges start a tuition discount war for wealthy students that has now spread across the country? With credentialing programs spreading like wild fire, what’s the value of a college degree? Why do African-American undergraduates have a less than one-in-five chance of graduating from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee? At what price have America’s flagship universities paid to accept full-paying foreign undergrad students that shore up their finances?

Notably, the guide includes Stanford and Harvard in the top ten of its survey, just as U.S. News & World Report does. However, prestigious universities such as Yale and Dartmouth finish much further down the field while nearly ignored schools such as East Carolina University and CUNY Queens College performed quite well.



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