The U.S. News and World Report is the giant in this industry. The ranking started in 1983. While it changes and updates it’s methodology from year to year, major factors include ‘financial resources’, ‘faculty resources’ and ‘student excellence’—which is defined in terms of the test scores and high school class rank. It also includes ‘expert opinion’, which asks senior leadership of universities to rank their peer institutions.
Many critics have noted that these measures say nothing about what happens to students after college, only what qualifications and resources they had when they began. In response the US News and World report included ‘Outcomes’ for the first time in 2018, measuring graduation and retention rates along with the number of pell-eligible students who graduate in a timely manner.
None of this says anything about what a college does. Retaining and graduating students at a high rate, while a laudable goal, says absolutely nothing about what a student has learned before graduation, or how much they have grown.
The Washington Monthly
The Washington Monthly ranking started in 2005 in response to the need to balance the US News and World Report. Their ranking weights social mobility, research, and public service equally.
Social mobility is measured much like the US News and World reports 2018 edition–the number of pell-eligible students who graduate within appropriate time period. Research is measured in terms of the amount of money expended on research by the University, and the percentage of Bachelor’s degree earners earning PhDs.
Community service is measured by the number of graduates who join the Peace Corps, the number involved in ROTC, the amount of work-study money spent on supporting community service, whether the institution matches Americorps service grants and the extent to which students are engaged with the voting process.
The Forbes rank is the new comer. Starting in 2007, it attempts to rank colleges based on how graduates have performed after college, rather than the qualifications of the first year students coming in. 20% is based on the graduates’ salaries, 20% based on the debt they carry, and 20% a combination of student retention and student responses to an survey from Niche.
Our system is entirely different. All three of these seek to rank colleges from ‘best’ to ‘worst.’ They make judgements about the quality of a collegiate education—and the measures they choose reflect implicitly what aspects of education they value.
The editors and readers of US News and World Report value reputation, resources and exclusivity. The Washington Monthly values social mobility, research and commitment to the public good. Forbes values how well students are prepared economically for the future.
These reflect different visions of what college is about. Colleges that do not see themselves as participating in class-based stratification have no interest in the US News and World Report. Colleges that are not concerned with public service or research have no interest in the Washington Monthly. And colleges that are interested only in knowledge for its own sake (i.e. not for the gaining of career advancement) has no interest in Forbes’ rankings.
At College Deliberately, we make no attempt to ‘rank’ colleges’ quality on any of these measures. Rather, we attempt to highlight how colleges how they see themselves, and what metrics they thing are important.