BACK TO SCHOOL…. Today the Washington Monthly releases its annual College Rankings. It’s our alternative to U.S. News & World Report’s rankings, which we find objectionable for a number of reasons (see “A Different Kind of College Ranking“). Whereas U.S. News relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of money and prestige, we rank schools based on what they are doing for the country — by improving social mobility, producing research, and promoting public service.

The Washington Monthly‘s unique methodology yields strikingly different results:

* Only one of the U.S. News top ten universities — Stanford — makes the Washington Monthly‘s top ten, while high profile institutions such as Princeton, Duke and Penn fail to even crack Washington Monthly‘s Top 25.

* Some of top universities on the Washington Monthly list, like South Carolina State (#6) and Jackson State (#22), are non-elite “red state” schools buried in the lowest tiers of the U.S. News list.

* While all the top twenty U.S. News universities are private, thirteen of the top twenty Washington Monthly universities are public.

* The University of California system grabs the top three slots-including number-one-ranked Berkeley — even as the state of California is slashing higher education funding.

* Women’s liberal arts colleges score well in the Washington Monthly rankings, with Mount Holyoke, Smith, Bryn Mawr and Wellesley all in the Top 10. Historically black institutions, such as Spelman and Morehouse, also make strong showings.

We want people to use this information to change the way they think about colleges and universities, the first step toward changing the institutions themselves. And make no mistake: with tuition rising faster than health care costs, big changes are necessary, and they’re coming. That’s why we’re also proud to announce the debut of our new College Guide Web site, devoted to higher education reform — a subject we believe will be one of the big emerging stories of the coming decade. Take a look.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.