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

By James Fallows

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.
__
* 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. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/08/hot-off-the-press-latest-washington-monthly-college-rankings/261611/