Today, the Washington Monthly magazine is releasing its annual College Guide and Rankings, which The New York Times has called “more interesting than virtually any other ranking out there.” While U.S. News & World Report relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige for its rankings, the Washington Monthly rates schools based on what they are doing for the country — on whether they’re improving social mobility, producing research, and promoting public service.

The Washington Monthly‘s unique methodology yields striking results.

* Only two of U.S. News‘ top ten schools — Harvard and Stanford — make our top ten. Yale and Princeton fail even to crack our top 20. Instead, schools like the University of California San Diego, our number one national university this year (for the second year in a row), and Mississippi’s Jackson State University, a school relegated to a bottom tier in U.S. News, leave several members of the Ivy League in the dust.

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

* Berea College, a tiny, tuition-free institution in Kentucky, beats out Amherst, Swarthmore, Williams, and other name-brand schools to become the top liberal arts college in America, according to our measures.

* Historically Black Colleges and Universities also did well in our rankings: while none made it into U.S. News‘ top twenty national or liberal arts categories, four made it into ours. HBCUs also comprise a quarter of our top 20 baccalaureate colleges, with Tuskegee sitting atop the list.

* Women’s colleges score well in the Washington Monthly rankings, with Bryn Mawr, Spelman, and Wellesley all in the Top 20 liberal arts colleges.

This year’s guide also includes in-depth feature stories that look at how trends in higher education relate to the big issues facing Washington policymakers right now, including debt, job creation, and growing income inequality.

* Kevin Carey on the coming digital revolution in college admissions and how it will rattle the meritocracy.

* John Gravois on a nonprofit online university that is eating the lunch of the for-profit behemoths.

* Susan Headden, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, on how “placement tests,” downmarket cousins of the SAT, are effectively denying millions of capable working-class students a chance to earn a college degree.

* Benjamin Ginsberg on how an ever-growing army of college administrators is causing tuition to skyrocket.

* Erin Dillon on a new way to rate colleges: by how much their graduates actually earn.

Here’s the link to the full Table of Contents for our College Guide and Rankings issue.

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.