On Washington Monthly's 'different kind of college ranking,' public colleges are king

Editors say their metrics could improve the industry

Sixteen of the top 20 institutions in Washington Monthly's annual college guide are public, a marked difference from the better-known—and private-school dominated—U.S. News & World Report list.

In an introduction, Washington Monthly's editors explain the difference: U.S. News gives too much weight to schools based on wealth, exclusivity, and reputation among the elite, they argue.

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"We think that those criteria have helped lead the higher education system down its current ruinous path," they write. "Instead, we rank four-year colleges in American on three measures that would make the whole system better, if only schools would compete on them."

According to Washington Monthly, those rankings are:

1. Upward mobility: Does the institution enroll low-income students at a reasonable price?

2. Research: Are undergraduates being prepared to pursue their Ph.D.'s and develop economy-driving technologies?

3. Service: Do students give back by joining the Peace Corps, joining the military, or earning work-study money through community service?

The data was adjusted to avoid statistical outliers, and this "different kind of college ranking" resulted in the following list:  

1. University of California, San Diego
2. University of California, Riverside
3. Texas A&M University, College Station
4. University of California, Berkeley
5. Stanford University
6. University of California, Los Angeles
7. University of Washington, Seattle
8. Harvard University
9. Georgia Institute of Technology, Main
10. University of Texas, El Paso

Harvard and Stanford make the list because their large endowments enable them to provide financial aid to those who need it, "a commendable but irreplicable model," write the editors.

"It has never been more expensive to go to college in America, and many of the public colleges and universities that have historically been one of the few reliable pathways to prosperity for the poor and the middle class are rapidly boosting tuition toward private market rates," they say.

Public anger over tuition prices and student debt has led to a national discussion emerging as a main topic of the next presidential election, and use of contingent labor has resulted in unionization efforts.

"What's needed most, though, is better information and metrics, including data on student outcomes, so that the incentives that push producers in other markets to provide better quality at lower prices can work in higher education too," the editors write (Washington Monthly, September-October 2015 [1]; Washington Monthly, September-October 2015 [2]).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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