Hot Off the Press: Latest 'Washington Monthly' College Rankings

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A year ago I explained why I considered the Washington Monthly's college-ranking standards so big an improvement over the familiar original version from US News.* For more background on these and other ranking systems, and why I have been touting the Washington Monthly's approach, see this dispatch from three years ago. The main policy point about rankings remains this one, from last year:

It's never been realistic to expect US News or other rankings-producers to solve [the familiar distortions of the rankings process] by giving up on rankings. Rankings are simply too important as a business. Indeed, long after US News has ceased operations as a weekly magazine, it lives on mainly as a rankings agency. ("Best Heart Surgery Hospitals," "Best Law Firms," etc).

So the only reasonable way to blunt the effect of one set of rankings is by adding many more. A wide range of rankings would more fully reflect the very wide range of criteria by which a certain school might be the "best" for a certain student. Is Julliard "better" than West Point, and is either "better" than Reed -- or Berkeley or Embry-Riddle or the University of Chicago or Smith or CCNY? They all are different, and the more that outside assessments could reflect that range, the better.

The Washington Monthly explains the rationale for their rankings here; to get an idea of the difference this approach makes, here is a glimpse of part of its ranking spreadsheet for the top National Universities.

WashMoRank2012.png

So many pressures contribute to the insanity of modern American higher ed that different and more diverse rankings won't solve the problem on their own. But this is a step. Highly recommended.
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* Disclosure #1: my first job in the magazine world was at the Washington Monthly, and I remain a loyal alum. Disclosure #2: in the late 1990s I was the editor of US News and was in a tussle even then with the way their rankings were done. 

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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