Rethinking College Rankings

November 19th, 2007 by Keith Clausen

As we discussed in the last post, US News and World Report dominates rankings of colleges and universities in the US. The US News rankings are comprehensive and helpful in many ways, but there are critics of the rankings system. One small newspaper has proposed its own rankings system for the past three years.

When the Washington Monthly published its 2007 College Rankings, which can be viewed online here, it didn’t look at average SAT score, average starting salary or average alumni giving, all standard fare in the US News and most other rankings. Instead, it graded schools based on three general categories — Social Mobility, Research and Service. Why? In the words of Editor Paul Glastris, from his stint on the Colbert Report, colleges should be ranked on their contribution to the public interest, not on whether they have great rock-climbing walls.

Here’s the three things Washington Monthly uses to rank a college’s contribution to the public interest:

1. Social Mobility: “We want our colleges to be engines of social mobility so that the poor can get a better life.” Under this criteria, the magazine looks at the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, which it considers a good indicator of the school’s commitment to poorer students, as well as the percentage of those students that graduate.

2. Research: “We want colleges to create the research and PhDs that can power the economy.” Because Washington Monthly believes that research and PhDs are the key to growing the economy in a global market, they measure numbers of PhDs and amount of research spending by the university.

3. Service: “And we want colleges to inculcate an ethic of service for young people.” For this, Washington Monthly looks at the number of students entering the Peace Corps, the size of the school’s ROTC program, and the percent of work-study funds spent on community service projects.

Click here to see the whole college rankings report.

As an international student, did you use the US News and World Report rankings to help you select a US school? Would this alternative rankings system play into your decision-making process at all? We would love to hear your input.

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