College Guide


June 30, 2009 1:37 AM Introduction: A Different Kind of College Ranking

By The Editors

One reason the Ivies as a group fare poorly in our rankings is their abysmal record of taking on and graduating poorer students. Harvard and Yale particularly struggle here, while Cornell’s eightieth-place finish in that measure is good enough to lead the Ancient Eight. But there’s another factor at work for some: all of the Ivies except Cornell, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania refuse to allow ROTC facilities on campus, which cuts into their service scores. They say excluding ROTC is a matter of principle. We have different principles.

In the weird calculations of U.S. News, no public universities rank in the nation’s top twenty. This would be highly suspicious under any fair measure of academic quality, but when gauging a school’s contribution to the country, as we do, it makes no sense at all. And indeed, state schools perform very well on our list, especially the University of California system, which takes four of our top ten spots. Meanwhile, some state schools that were also-rans on the U.S. News list are leaders on ours. South Carolina State, which falls into their unranked fourth tier (encompassing the bottom 25 percent), finishes tenth here, thanks to the large numbers of low-income students it accepts and graduates as well as the school’s record of supporting ROTC.

Speaking of state schools, the surprise number one this year—up from fifth in 2006—is Texas A&M. It earns the top spot thanks to an impressive level of ROTC enrollment and a generous amount of federal work-study funds devoted to community service.

Conservatives might see the ascent of the Aggies—better known for football, crew cuts, and the proposed George W. Bush Presidential Library—as a triumph of red-state values. But that’s a hard case to make considering the bastions of liberalism that are hot on Texas A&M’s heels. UCLA comes in at number two, followed closely by UC Berkeley. UCLA does a great job of accepting and graduating students of modest means, while Berkeley excels at service, and both schools boast a profusion of science and engineering degrees. Educators and members of Congress like to say that there’s no Republican or Democratic way to teach a student. We say the same goes for creating universities that serve the country.

In 2006, women’s colleges took the top two spots on our liberal arts college list. This year, the fairer sex again posts an impressive showing, capturing two of the top ten and four of the top twenty-five places. They’re led by second-place Smith College and the historically black Spelman College at ten (sixty-four spots above its U.S. News ranking). Hillary Clinton’s alma mater, Wellesley College, places twenty-first, with Mount Holyoke a spot behind. For all-male colleges, only Morehouse puts in a respectable showing, at twentieth place; two others, by contrast, Wabash College and Hampden-Sydney College, place at 171st and 184th respectively. Draw your own conclusions.

… the California Institute of Technology, which weighs in at 141st on our list, 137 spots off their U.S. News rankings. We don’t doubt that Caltech students can trip-wire a trapdoor so that a pumpkin frozen in liquid nitrogen will float suspended in midair before disintegrating in front of our very eyes. But the school’s record of accepting and graduating low-
income students and its ROTC rank are both so low that even its high research score can’t save it.

Dishonorable mention goes to Rice University. The best little university in Texas has steadily climbed up the U.S. News rankings, all the way to seventeenth, by spending its resources on pursuing students with high SAT scores. But it comes in at 103rd on our rankings, thanks to its extremely low social mobility and service scores. Rice, it appears, is in it for Rice.

If you’re looking, then, for information on which schools are the most selective, or which have the nicest swimming pools, the Washington Monthly College Rankings aren’t for you. But we hope they will be of some use—to students of modest means looking for colleges that will help them succeed; to alumni wanting to get a sense of their alma maters’ commitment to the public interest; or to elected officials trying to think of ways to get more bang for the public bucks they’re charged with spending on
higher education.

We also hope our rankings prove useful to the men and women who teach in and run America’s colleges and universities. Many of these folks got into academia for idealistic reasons, and deeply resent the degree to which their institutions have sold their souls in order to move up the U.S. News rankings—as Rice has done by ignoring poorer students in favor of those with high SAT scores.


  • johnny on September 02, 2009 1:17 PM:

    I don't understand. The article says that Caltech is at 141st, but the list posts them at 29th...

  • ginny on October 01, 2009 8:29 PM:

    what a stupid way to rank colleges. Instead of academic acheivement--how many Pell Grants? you have got to be kidding.

  • ginny on October 01, 2009 8:32 PM:

    the next thing you know, you'll be ranking them on the number of basket-weaving classes they have.