Hey! New college rankings are out. No, not the famous ones from U.S. News and World Report. This is a new set of rankings from the famously scrappy Washington Monthly. Rankings devised as a response to--and perhaps a dig at--the USN&WR numbers. And the rankings for local schools might comes as a surprise.
But first, some of the criteria involved, just so you know what this is all about:
U.S. News aims to provide readers with a yardstick by which to judge the "best" schools, ranked according to academic excellence. Now, we happen to think U.S. News and similar guides do a lousy job of actually measuring academic excellence (see "Is Our Students Learning?"). But the aim of such guides is a perfectly worthy one. Higher education is a huge investment, and parents and students have a right to know whether their hard-earned tuition dollars will be well spent.
But isn't it just as important for taxpayers to know whether their money--in the form of billions of dollars in research grants and student aid--is being put to good use? After all, when colleges are doing what they should, they benefit all of us. They undertake vital research that drives our economy. They help Americans who are poor to become Americans who will prosper. And they shape the thoughts and ethics of the young Americans who will soon be leading the country. It's worth knowing, then, which individual colleges and universities fit the bill.
But enough of that. Where do the local schools end up on this kinder, gentler list of 245 "national universities"?
Pitt: Ranked number 58 in the USN&WR rankings, the Panthers come in at 66. (That's 17 spots out of the top quintile.)
Carnegie Mellon: Our resident robotic experts, which score a very respectable 22 in the USN&WR rankings, come in at 54 on the WM list. I suspect this is because robots have cold, cold hearts. Five spots out of the top quintile.
And what about Penn State?
Penn State. Gosh. They come in at number three.
That's right. Number 3. Joe Paterno, apparently, does not have a cold heart. A fact which raised the Nittany Do-Gooders from an anemic 48 in USN&WR rankings.
Other Pennsylvania notables to beat out CMU and Pitt: Widener (52) and Penn (30). But you have to wonder what's going on at Drexel (214). Sheesh.
Also check out Pennsylvania on the "liberal arts colleges" list. I have left some out, but here are some I found interesting:
Seton Hill (177); Chatham (144); St. Vincent (128); Juniata (80); Dickinson (50); Bucknell (32).
Oh, and in the top 10: Swarthmore (10); Haverford (4); Bryn Mawr (1).
Eastern PA seems a lot more caring, no?
For what it's worth.
(A tip of the hat to Dave Weigel, who also provides a link to someone who thinks the new rankings are, how shall we say, ridiculous? A taste of her ire: Is Cal Tech only the 109th best college in the nation? Is South Carolina State superior to Harvard? A careful look at the Washington Monthly’s methodology reveals its flaws and biases. Here's the rest.)
Lists are fun.