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