The U.S. News and World Report
The U.S. News and World Report is the current giant in the rankings business, which started back in 1983. While it changes and updates its methodology from year to year, major factors include ‘financial resources’, ‘faculty resources’ and ‘student excellence’—which is defined in terms of test scores and high school class rank of students when they start. It 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 U.S. 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 examines 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 upon 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 U.S. News and World Report. Their ranking weights social mobility, research, and public service equally.
Social mobility is measured much like the U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 edition–the number of Pell-eligible students who graduate within an appropriate time.
Research caliber is measured in terms of the amount of money spent on research by the University, and the percentage of bestowed 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 country’s voting process.
The Forbes ranking, started in 2007, attempts to rank colleges based on how graduates have performed after college, rather than the pre-college qualifications of the first year students. 20% is based on graduates’ salaries, 20% based on the debt they carry, and 20% a combination of student retention and student responses to a survey from Niche.
College Deliberately rankings rationale
We approach this from an entirely different angle! The aforementioned attempt 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 U.S. 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 prepared economically students might be.
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 U.S. 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) have no interest in the Forbes ranking.
At College Deliberately, we make no attempt to ‘rank’ colleges on any of these measures. Rather, we attempt to highlight how colleges see themselves, and what metrics they think are important, so you can assess how that matches with what will support your goals.