BACK TO SCHOOL….U.S. News & World Report publishes its university rankings every year, and every year people complain about them. So starting in 2005 we decided to do more than just complain, and instead came out with our own rankings — based not on reputation or endowment size, but rather on how much of a contribution each university actually makes to the country. This year’s #1 school? Texas A&M. Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris explains:

Surely, you might ask, we don’t really think that Texas A&M is better than Princeton? Well, yes, in a way. Remember, we aren’t trying, as U.S. News does, to rate how selective or academically prestigious a given school is, but rather how much it contributes to the common good. The whole point is to recognize the broader role colleges and universities play in our national life and to reward those institutions that best fulfill that role. After all, almost every major challenge America now faces — from stagnant wages to the lack of fluent Arab speakers in the federal government — could be met in part by better harnessing the power of our colleges and universities.

So instead of measuring, say, the average SAT scores of incoming freshmen, or the percentage of alumni who donate money, we rank colleges based on three criteria: social mobility, research, and service. In other words, is the school recruiting and graduating low-income students? Is it producing PhDs and cutting-edge research? And is it encouraging in its students an ethic of service? By this yardstick, Texas A&M really does outperform every other university in America (a nose ahead of UCLA and UC Berkeley).

The top ten national universities are listed below. Want to know how your alma mater did? The full list of national universities is here. The full list of liberal arts universities is here. We even have a short list of the country’s top community colleges here.

Want to kvetch about our methodology? It’s explained here. Enjoy!