College Guide – A Different View

As an alternative to U.S. News & World Report’s much-criticized college rankings, the Washington Monthly magazine has just released its own annual College Guide and Rankings. Whereas U.S. News relies on basic and easily manipulated measures of money and prestige, like alumni giving rates and a vague reputational survey, the Washington Monthly ranks schools based on their contributions to society.

The Washington Monthly’s approach provides noticeably different results – some highlights:

  • Some of the top universities on the Washington Monthly list, like South Carolina State (#6) and Jackson State (#22), are non-elite “red state” schools buried in the lowest tiers of the U.S. News list.
  • Women’s liberal arts colleges score well in the Washington Monthly rankings, with Mount Holyoke, Smith, Bryn Mawr and Wellesley all in the top 10. Historically black institutions, such as Spelman and Morehouse, also make strong showings.
  • While all the top 20 U.S. News universities are private, 13 of the top 20 Washington Monthly universities are public.

To compile the list, the Washington Monthly’s editors gathered publicly available data while U.S. News relies on universities to report data. The Washington Monthly list is based on three criteria: social mobility, research and service. America’s best colleges, the editors reasoned, are those that produce new scientific discoveries and highly trained PhDs, help economically disadvantaged students earn degrees, and emphasize the obligations students have to serve their communities and the nation at large. Below is a snapshot of the list, but you can browse and manipulate the complete list here.