An Alternative College Ranking

Coinciding with our discussions here on Bacon’s Rebellion about higher education, I just received the annual Washington Monthly issue with its college rankings.

The Monthly takes a significantly different approach to ranking colleges and universities than does the U.S. News and World Report. It identifies the aspects it feels are important in making a college or university “good.” After establishing those qualities, it uses quantitative measures to rank each school.

The three basic qualities, or functions, if you will, are: Social Mobility, Research, and Service. In its methodology, these qualities are weighted equally. To come up with its overall rankings, the magazine uses the following quantitative measures:

Social Mobility

  • Graduation rate rank
  • Grad rate performance rank
  • Pell graduation gap rank
  • Number of Pell graduates
  • Pell performance rank
  • First generation performance rank
  • Earnings performance rank
  • Net price rank
  • Repayment rank
  • Repayment rate performance rank


  • Research expenditure rank
  • Bachelor’s to PhD rank
  • Science and Engineering PhDs rank
  • Faculty awards rank
  • Faculty in National Academies rank


  • Peace Corps rank
  • ROTC rank
  • % of federal work-study funds spent on service
  • Matches AmeriCorps service grants?
  • Voting engagement points

Note that several of these measures address issues that have been raised in our BR discussions. These are the ones dealing with graduation rates, performance of first-generation college students, and earnings performance.

The results of this process are interesting and surprising. The usual institutions, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, etc., still come out on top, but some lesser-known colleges also show up in the top rankings. These include Utah State, Cedar Crest College (Pennsylvania), and Berea College (Kentucky).

So how do Virginia schools fare? Rather than lump everyone together, the magazine  established groupings of like institutions. Here are the results:

National Universities  Total: 395

35—Mary Baldwin

42—Va. Tech



103—Regent University

109—William and Mary



361—Hampton University

371—Shenandoah University

387—Liberty University

(For National Universities, the full array of quantitative measures listed above are used. For the other groups, only “Research expenditures rank” and “Bachelor’s to PhD” rank are used to measure Research.)

Liberal Arts Colleges  Total:  214

1—Washington and Lee


32—University of Richmond

75—UVa. at Wise

120—Randolph Macon College

127—Sweet Briar

161—Hollins University

165—Roanoke College

170—Virginia Wesleyan University

174—Randolph College (used to be Randolph-Macon Women’s College)


181—Emory and Henry


201—Virginia Union

211—Southern Virginia University (I had never heard of this one. It is in Buena Vista and is aligned with the Mormon Church.)

Master’s Universities  Total: 200

4—James Madison

32—Mary Washington



181—Virginia State

Bachelor’s Colleges  Total: 200

79—Bluefield College

80—Averett College

154—Ferrum College

I realize that this is a long post, but there is one more category that should interest BR readers. This is the “Best Bang for the Buck Colleges.” The Monthly defines these as those colleges that “do a good job promoting social mobility.” It picked 50 for each region. In the Southeast Region, Virginia fared pretty well:

2—Washington and Lee


8—James Madison

12—Mary Baldwin

18—George Mason

19—University of Richmond



30—Va. Tech

33—UVa. at Wise

39—Mary Washington


45—William and Mary

49—Virginia State

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7 responses to “An Alternative College Ranking”

  1. It’s interesting to look at the result of a different methodology, especially one that measures something other than prestige. It’s good to see that Virginia institutions fared so well. Fourteen of the “best bang for the buck” institutions in the Southeast. Not so shabby.

    But Mary Baldwin as the 35th top “national” university? That’s kind of funky.

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    As they say if you keep on doing what you’ve been doing, you will keep on getting what you’ve been getting. A different perspective is often very useful.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    It’s good Dick… surprised there was no reaction to this: “.. “Best Bang for the Buck Colleges.” The Monthly defines these as those colleges that “do a good job promoting social mobility.” ”

    I ran across this PEW poll on higher ed and it sorta explains some of the critical viewpoints in BR:

    The Growing Partisan Divide in Views of Higher Education

    “Americans see value in higher education – whether they graduated from college or not. Most say a college degree is important, if not essential, in helping a young person succeed in the world, and college graduates themselves say their degree helped them grow and develop the skills they needed for the workplace. While fewer than half of today’s young adults are enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, the share has risen steadily over the past several decades. And the economic advantages college graduates have over those without a degree are clear and growing.

    Even so, there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction – even suspicion – among the public about the role colleges play in society, the way admissions decisions are made and the extent to which free speech is constrained on college campuses. And these views are increasingly linked to partisanship.”,490

  4. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Bring back the Playboy “party school” ranking! Sadly, the powers that be will simply dismiss this and in the parlance of my youth, keep on keeping on. Likewise with the social trends and liberal messaging that distress many people, as Pew is picking up on.

    But even I no longer accept this statement: “And the economic advantages college graduates have over those without a degree are clear and growing.” The debt to income ratio is negative for a growing number of graduates, and even worse for those who do not finish. To go back to the earlier discussion, community college or a very solid trade program probably have higher value over much of the population.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Playboy Party School Ranking –

      While William & Mary didn’t make Playboy’s list it was rated #1 by Poetry Today Magazine.

  5. Well there you go. Two of our top state colleges produce nothing but puking partiers and pusillanimous poets (since 1819 and 1693 respectively). No wonder the state’s economic gears are grinding a bit.

    I’d double check the ranking of Mary Baldwin. They are certainly not a “National University” so I suspect they are actually in another category.

    Kudos to W&L for a #1 ranking out of 214 Liberal Arts Colleges.

  6. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I, too, was surprised both at the inclusion of Mary Baldwin in the National Universities category and its high ranking. Now that I have had some time to dig into the data a little bit, I have some answers, but some questions remain.

    On its website, the Washington Monthly uses these definitions:
    • National universities–Institutions that award a significant number of doctoral degrees. (I could not find any additional explanation of what constituted “significant”.)
    • Liberal Arts Colleges–Baccalaureate colleges that focus on arts and sciences rather than professional programs.
    • Master’s universities–Institutions that award a significant number of master’s degrees but few or no doctoral degrees.
    • Bachelor’s colleges–Institutions that award almost exclusively bachelor’s degrees.

    Based on these definitions , I would have thought that William and Mary and Regent should be in either the “Liberal Arts Colleges” or “Master’s universities” categories. Neither is known for its strong doctoral programs, but both have law schools, and a J.D. is considered the equivalent of a PhD in some quarters (both are terminal degrees). However, Washington and Lee also has a law school and it was labeled a “Liberal Arts” college. According to the Mary Baldwin website, the only doctoral degrees it offers are in occupational therapy and physical therapy. Although, based on the number of degrees awarded last year, these seem to be strong programs, it does not seem that would be enough to qualify it as a “national university”. So, go figure.

    As for Mary Baldwin’s ranking, the school scored well on social mobility, especially on the measures related to Pell grants, first generation performance, and earnings performance. It did not score well on the research measures, which is not surprising. The “sleeper” measure was ROTC rank; the school scored the best in the nation on the percentage of students who serve in ROTC.

    A note of explanation is warranted here. The state provides scholarships to state residents at Mary Baldwin who participate in the Virginia Women’s Leadership Program, aka ROTC. The establishment of the program many years ago was part of the Commonwealth’s desperate attempt to fend off court suits to open the Virginia Military Institute to women. It tried to argue that, because women could get a state-supported military education at Mary Baldwin, there was no need to allow them into VMI. The Supreme Court did not buy that argument. (Why Mary Baldwin, a private school, was chosen for this program instead of a state school, I do not know.)

    Although VMI lost its court case and women are now enrolled in that institution, the program at Mary Baldwin continues. However, the cost to the state has decreased over the years. The amount of a scholarship for participation in the program is limited to the amount for which a student would otherwise have been eligible under another program. The program seems to have been integrated into the VMI program with Mary Baldwin students taking their ROTC classes on the VMI campus.

    I could not find any data on the number of Mary Baldwin students participating in ROTC. However, because the student body is small (only about 750 residential undergraduates), it would not take many to make a significant percentage.

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