Friday, December 02, 2005

A New Form of School Rank

Washington Monthly has proposed a new system of school rankings for colleges and universities around the country. Their mission was to create a ranking system that asked what Americaneeded from its universities. Things like graduation rate and alumni donation, which are important to the U.S. News & World Report rankings, play a minor role here. Instead, their criteria for the school selection revolved around the question “What does Americaneed from its universities?” They go on to describe the three main aspects: “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.” Note: the social mobility indicates the relative access to schooling that lower-income students have, either through their own financial workings or through grant and loan programs designed to help them afford college. These are the functions, they indicate, that make universities socially relevant and important. Their results are astounding.

Research helped catapult a number of surprising schools, ones who do not initially appear to have great social contributions, to the top of the list. The research facilities of MIT, UCLA, Berkeley, Cornell, and Stanford all helped propel them into the top 5. However, more than research was needed to bring about a high score, as is obvious when Harvard ranks #16 on the list. MIT’s service dedication was very high - #7 on that list – and that helped push it to #1 on the overall rankings. Due to their high proportion of lower-income students, public universities ranked high on the list. The University of California system had 4 of its 9 campuses in the top 20: UCLA (#2); UC Berkeley (#3); UC San Diego (#8) and UC Davis (#17). At the same time, however, Princeton finished far down, around Iowa State University. This is partially due to its status as a university (Princeton stresses teaching rather than research), but it also did poorly on national service and social mobility, areas where it should have done much better.

It is a fascinating re-evaluation of schools, one that looks at the social implications of their roles as educators, rather than mere student-performance based results. I encourage everyone to look at this ranking, for it helps to encapsulate some of the ideals we need to stress in higher education: good strong research, a willingness to help everyone achieve a good education, and an emphasis on giving back to the community and the country.

The whole article can be read at

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