College rankings war heats up as Washington Monthly releases lists, calls out U.S. News

Stanford University ranks No. 1 overall with few surprises in its top 10, but many more will look different as the publication focuses on social mobility.

Paul Glastris, the editor in chief of Washington Monthly, one of the many publications with annual college rankings, proclaimed boldly that “America needs a new definition of higher education excellence, one that measures what colleges do for their country, instead of for themselves.” He specifically called out U.S. News & World Report for having an elite-driven system of ratings.

U.S. News rewards colleges for their wealth, prestige, and exclusivity, thereby aggravating America’s racial and class divides, whereas the Monthly ranks schools based on very different criteria meant to do the opposite,” Glastris said. Even at the top of its new report, it says their rival’s rankings are “crude and easily manipulated,” shown by cases involving Columbia University and Temple University.

With those challenges levied, Washington Monthly released its best-of lists on Monday in an effort to highlight those that drive the “public good” through research and public service, with a huge lean to social mobility. Though it will be another two weeks before U.S. News releases its rankings, there are likely to be differences. But how much different will they be?

At No. 1 on Washington Monthly’s National University list this year is Stanford University (an institution that landed at No. 5 in U.S. News in 2022). Stanford rated well on social mobility, net price of income of those earning less than $75,000 and had a stellar 96% eight-year graduation rate. Five Ivy League schools made the top 10, including Penn at No. 2, Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Cornell. MIT, which was No. 3 in U.S. News rankings, was also No. 3 on Washington Monthly’s list. Duke University came in at No. 5. Two outliers from Washington Monthly included UC-Berkeley at No. 9 and the University of Notre Dame at No. 10. It is worth noting that Cornell did not crack the U.S. News Top 10 last year, but Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, the University of Chicago and Caltech did, because of ties.

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Where there likely will be divergence is in the next tier, led in Washington Monthly ranking by the University of California, Davis (No. 11) and Dartmouth College (No. 12). Caltech did make it in at No. 14, but Brigham Young (No. 13), Georgetown University (No. 15), the University of Wisconsin-Madison (No. 16), the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (No. 17), National Louis University (No. 18), the University of Washington at Seattle (No. 19) and UC-San Diego (No. 20) all made it into the Top 20. None of them made it that high on U.S. News’ list last year.

National Louis, located in Illinois, might not have the research prowess of say, Johns Hopkins, or even graduate 55% of its students after eight years, but its No. 4 spot overall on social mobility vaulted it in among the best institutions. The University of Washington at Seattle scored well in all three big categories (social mobility No. 60, research No. 13 and public service No. 42).

In addition to its National University categories, Washington Monthly included several other rankings, including best Liberal Arts Colleges, where it focuses on “bachelor’s degrees over professional programs.” Topping that list are two from California – Harvey Mudd College and Pomona College – followed by Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Washington and Lee University in Virginia and Barea College in Kentucky. Williams College, which came in No. 1 in last year’s U.S. News ranking, was sixth on Washington Monthly’s list.

Evergreen State College in Washington led its list of top Master’s Universities. The State University of New York at Geneseo was second, followed by Cal State University-Los Angeles, Cal State-Northridge and Prescott College in Arizona.

One of its most talked-about lists will be its Best Bang for the Buck rankings in each region of country, or those they say “help non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices.” They include these leaders:

In the Northeast: 1. Massachusetts Maritime Academy. 2. Bentley University. 3. University of Pennsylvania. 4. MIT. 5. Boricua College (NY).

In the Midwest: 1. Union Institute and University (OH). 2. National Louis University. 3. College of the Ozarks. 4. Governors State University (IL). 5. University of Notre Dame.

In the Southeast: 1. Washington and Lee University. 2. Georgetown University. 3. Duke University. 4. Florida International University. 5. University of Florida.

In the South: 1. Barea College. 2. Simmons College of Kentucky. 3. Wade College (TX). 4. Texas A&M International University. 5. University of Texas at Rio Grande.

In the West: 1. Brigham Young University. 2. University of Washington at Tacoma. 3. CSU-Los Angeles. 4. CSU-Maritime Academy. 5. CSU-Stanislaus.

Here are Washington Monthly’s Top 100 Best National Universities:

  1. Stanford University
  2. University of Pennsylvania
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  4. Princeton University
  5. Duke University
  6. Harvard University
  7. Yale University
  8. Cornell University
  9. University of California-Berkeley
  10. University of Notre Dame
  11. University of Califorinia-Davis
  12. Dartmouth College
  13. Brigham Young University
  14. California Institute of Technology
  15. Georgetown University
  16. University of Wisconsin-Madison
  17. University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign
  18. National Louis University
  19. University of Washington at Seattle
  20. University of California at San Diego
  21. University of California at Los Angeles
  22. Utah State University
  23. Johns Hopkins University
  24. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  25. Columbia University
  26. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor
  27. Washington University in St. Louis
  28. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  29. Vanderbilt University
  30. Northwestern University
  31. University of Virginia
  32. Florida International University
  33. University of Florida
  34. Carnegie Mellon University
  35. Boston College
  36. California State University at Fresno
  37. Lehigh University
  38. Rutgers University-Newark
  39. University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
  40. Brown University
  41. University of Chicago
  42. Texas A&M University-College Station
  43. California State University at San Bernardino
  44. George Washington University
  45. William & Mary University
  46. Washington State University
  47. University of Central Florida
  48. Michigan State University
  49. University of California at Merced
  50. Arizona State University
  51. James Madison University
  52. University of Southern California
  53. Wake Forest University
  54. Colorado School of Mines
  55. Emory University
  56. University of California at Irvine
  57. Iowa State University
  58. University of Missouri at Columbia
  59. California State University at Long Beach
  60. Michigan Technical University
  61. University of Illinois at Chicago
  62. State University of New York at Albany
  63. Rice University
  64. Illinois State University
  65. Purdue University
  66. University of California at Santa Barbara
  67. Indiana University at Bloomington
  68. Syracuse University
  69. University of California at Riverside
  70. Georgia Institute of Technology
  71. Rutgers University-Camden
  72. Florida Atlantic University
  73. University of Delaware
  74. North Carolina State University
  75. University of Texas at Rio Grande
  76. California State University at Fullerton
  77. University of North Carolina at Greensboro
  78. University of Maryland at College Park
  79. University of Connecticut
  80. University of Utah
  81. Villanova University
  82. University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  83. University of Rochester
  84. San Francisco State University
  85. Winston-Salem State University
  86. Boston University
  87. University of Arizona
  88. University of Texas at Austin
  89. Missouri University of Science and Technology
  90. Montclair State University
  91. Rutgers University-New Brunswick
  92. Marquette University
  93. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  94. George Mason University
  95. Ohio State University (main campus)
  96. University of Iowa
  97. East Carolina University
  98. University of South Florida
  99. Tufts University
  100. University of Vermont
Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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