Measuring colleges by their service to community and country

Many publications want to get into the college rankings business and Washington Monthly released their own take today. The difference? They emphasize how the college gives back to society:

The Monthly’s list aims to be a corrective to the annual ranking of colleges published by U.S. News World & Report–the industry-standard roster that typically leads with well-endowed Ivy League schools that turn away the vast majority of applicants.

Instead, the Monthly ranks schools using three main categories: how many low-income students the college enrolls, how much community and national service a given college’s students engage in, and the volume of groundbreaking research the university produces (in part measured by how many undergraduates go on to get PhDs). To paraphrase the long-ago dictum of President John F. Kennedy, the Monthly is seeking, in essence, to ask not so much what colleges can to for themselves as what they can be doing for their country.

By that measure, only one Ivy cracked the top 10–Harvard. The University of California system dominated, with six of California state schools among the top 30 national universities. Texas A&M, which is ranked 63rd by U.S. News, shot into the top 20 in part because of how many of its students participate in ROTC. Meanwhile, Washington University in St. Louis plunged in these rankings to 112 from U.S. News’ 13, because only 6 percent of its student body qualifies for federal Pell grants, an indication that Washington’s students come almost entirely from upper- and middle-class backgrounds.

The U.S. News & World Report “relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige for its rankings,” Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris wrote. The U.S. News’ rankings take into account freshmen retention rate, admissions’ selectivity, high school counselors’ opinions of the school, faculty salary, per-pupil spending and the rate of alumni giving, among other things.

While the editor suggests these new rankings are not as influenced by status and wealth, I wonder if the measures really get away from these entirely. It takes resources to enroll low-income students, provide resources ground-breaking research, and perhaps extra time for students to be able to be engaged in community and national service. On the other hand, colleges make decisions about how to spend their money and could choose to put their resources into these particular areas.

I’m sure there will be questions about methodology: how did they measure impactful research? How much should ROTC count for and how did they measure community engagement?

New rankings also give more schools an opportunity to claim that they are at the top. For example, Northwestern College in Iowa now trumpets on their main page that “Washington Monthly ranks NWC third in the nation.” Read past the headline and you find that it is third within baccalaureate colleges. On the other side, will schools like Washington University in St. Louis even acknowledge these new rankings since they don’t look so good?

0 thoughts on “Measuring colleges by their service to community and country

  1. Pingback: A new way to do the college search process: one comprehensive website to match students to colleges | Legally Sociable

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