The Washington Monthly magazine today released its 2020 College Guide and Rankings, the socially conscious alternative to U.S. News & World Report. While U.S. News rewards colleges and universities for their wealth, exclusivity, and prestige, the Monthly ranks them on how well they serve the country as a whole—by recruiting and graduating non-wealthy students, encouraging student activism, and producing research and technologies that create high-paying jobs and address threats like climate change.
These new rankings are especially important now, with mass unemployment, the inequalities exposed by COVID-19, and the nationwide protests against racial injustice. This year, the Monthly is also listing the schools that make sure majors popular with Black students lead to well-paying jobs, the first time any publication has done so.
The Washington Monthly’s unique methodology yields multiple fascinating results:
While 19 of U.S. News and World Report’s top 20 national universities are elite private institutions, more than half of the Washington Monthly’s top 20 are public institutions. For instance, Texas A&M, ranked 70th by U.S. News, is 12th on the Washington Monthly list because it enrolls and graduates enormous numbers of first-generation and Pell grant students as well as science and engineering PhDs. Last year, the school graduated more Pell Grant recipients than Stanford, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton combined.
Other elite private national universities that score in U.S.News’s top 20 do less well on ours—including Northwestern (30th on our list), Brown (37th), and Johns Hopkins (54th). Meanwhile, Utah State University, 254th on U.S. News’s list, is 10thon the Monthly’s because it charges lower-income students so little in tuition and graduates so many.
In the liberal arts category, Berea College, 3rd on our list for its extraordinary record of recruiting and graduating lower-income students, is 46th on U.S. News’s. St. Mary’s College of Maryland, 29th on our list for the same reason, is 92nd on theirs
The colleges that score well on the Monthly’s rankings are swimming against the tide of a higher education system that forces non-affluent students to pay ever-higher tuition, take on ever-growing amounts of debt, and mortgage their futures. This same system has put many admirable small schools, including Beloit College (30th on our liberal arts college list) and Hiram College (the 3rd best bachelors college) under severe financial stress—made worse by the pandemic. That’s why, as part of this year’s college guide, Monthly guest editor and education expert Kevin Carey has detailed a plan that could save these schools by binding them together in a federally supported, affordable financial network.
“Today’s college students are the most socially active in decades, and keenly aware of how the higher education system is screwing them,” says Paul Glastris, Washington Monthly’s editor-in-chief. “This issue of the magazine gives them metrics they can use to hold their own schools accountable, and ideas we can all use to turn the system around.”
Despite the increased focus on racial justice in higher education, there’s little information about which schools do the best job of helping Black students. That’s why the Monthly used newly released Department of Education data to create a first-of-its-kind list: the schools where majors popular with Black students—social work, criminal justice, and sociology—lead to well-paying jobs. At the top of the resulting indexes are the University of Alabama (social work), Columbia University (sociology), and Texas Christian University (criminal justice). Half of all the listed schools are public.
In this critical year for civic engagement, the College Guide also highlights the institutions that take demonstrative steps to increase student voting. One hundred and fifty-seven schools earned that honor for 2020, mostly two- and four-year public institutions.
The Monthly rankings also include the Best Bachelor’s Colleges and Best Bang for the Buck.
The issue contains in-depth feature stories on: