Political Animal


August 28, 2012 8:47 AM America’s Best-Bang-for-the-Buck Colleges

By Paul Glastris

College may be a great investment, but not if you pay too much for it, and not if you don’t graduate. As the costs of tuition continue to rise, prospective college students — and the taxpayers who subsidize higher education — need better information on which schools do the best job of delivering degrees at a reasonable cost.

That’s why this year, the Washington Monthly’s annual College Guide and Rankings include a new “best bang for the buck” measure of college performance. We calculate which schools have the best records of helping their students graduate at the lowest price (factoring in financial aid), and which burn through tuition dollars with little to show for it. And unlike other publications, which rank colleges based on how prestigious and selective they are, we rate schools on how well they perform with the students they have, regardless of background or SAT scores.

So which are America’s “best bang for the buck” colleges? The results may surprise you. At the top of our list are schools like San Diego State, Cal State Fresno, Elizabeth City State of North Carolina, and Berea College of Kentucky — institutions that barely register on the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Meanwhile, some famous, high-status schools that occupy the upper reaches of the U.S. News list, such as USC and Carnegie Mellon, wind up near the bottom of ours.

To find out why and learn more, read “America’s Best-Bang-for-the-Buck Colleges” by Rachel Fishman and Robert Kelchen in Washington Monthly’s 2012 College Guide and Rankings.

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.


  • Cranky Observer on August 28, 2012 9:30 AM:

    Out of curiosity, does the Washington Monthly editorial board actually believe that US society suffers from a lack of militarism (Sparta worship), such that encouraging more of it is a good neoliberal principle?


  • matt w on August 28, 2012 9:52 AM:

    I was critical of the methodology of the overall rankings in the other posts, and I stand by that, but I think this sub-ranking is great. By comparing predicted graduation rates to actual graduation rates and tuition cost, you're measuring something that seems like it might be real -- it's easy to understand why you're calculating the numbers the way you do, and it's not ad hoc.

  • Robert on August 28, 2012 10:05 AM:

    [quote]"...we rate schools on how well they perform with the students they have, regardless of background or SAT scores. [/quote]

    Surely you mean "how well they perform with the students they have, taking into account their background