Friday, December 16, 2005

College? How Rank

College rankings or lack thereof have been a constant in my academic/professional life, from matriculating at Macalester College in 1991 and choosing a grad school in 1997 through my first "real" job and now my job at Carleton College. As the college's homepage indicates, Carleton is especially proud of its spot in the famous US News & World Report rankings - even though everyone you talk to (me included!) will pooh-pooh those same rankings.

All that's by way of saying that I was interested to see Washington Monthly's attempt at devising a new ranking scheme which aims to evaluate schools on

three central criteria: Universities should be engines of social mobility, they should produce the academic minds and scientific research that advance knowledge and drive economic growth, and they should inculcate and encourage an ethic of service.
The results are, to say the least, fascinating. Many of the big-name schools which dominate virtually every other ranking system - your Yales and Harvards - are either absent or poorly placed on the WaMo lists, though some (MIT) do show up.
The schools that topped our list didn't necessarily do so for the reasons you might expect. MIT earned its number one ranking not because of its ground-breaking research (although that didn't hurt), but on the basis of its commitment to national service... Similarly, UCLA, which finished second in our overall rankings, excelled in research and came in first in our social mobility rating because of its astoundingly high successful graduation rate given its large numbers of lower-income students... Princeton finished behind schools such as the University of Arizona and Iowa State—schools with which it probably does not often consider itself to be in competition—not just because of its comparatively low research numbers [but] mediocre scores on national service and social mobility...
WaMo also ranked liberal arts schools, and there its new rankings were somewhat more like the conventional ones. I was happy to see my alma mater, Macalester, ranked at #16, many notches ahead of Carleton, where I was once wait-listed but now am getting paid. The liberal-arts list includes (by my count) at least three historically black colleges, which speaks to the power of the WaMo methodology to measure postcollegiate social mobility.

Anyhow, if such things interest you, go and check out the full article, which includes tables of the top 30 national universities and top 30 liberal arts schools. It's worth a few minutes.