Monday, August 22, 2005

Another college guide 

I'm a little perplexed by the new Washington Monthly College Guide. I certainly understand the criticisms of the US News rankings of colleges, and in fact agree with the idea that they are perverting some college decisionmaking (that universities undertake some decisions with an eye towards improving their place in the rankings.) But what I want to know is why parents would choose colleges for their kids based on these criteria? Examine their methodology.
We determined the Community Service score by measuring each school's performance in three different areas: the percentage of their students enrolled in the Army or Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps; the percentage of their students who are currently serving in the Peace Corps; and the percentage of their federal work-study grants devoted to community service projects. A school's Research score is based on two measurements: the total amount of an institution's research spending, and the number of Ph.Ds awarded by the university in the sciences and engineering. For both Community Service and Research, we weighted each component equally to determine a school's final score in the category.
They then add in a Social Mobility score that is based on Pell Grant use by students, adjusted for graduation rates. Someone who wants to root around in that scoring method may find something perverse in there, but I can't be sure.

At any rate, such a rating method seems to give a lot of credit to schools who send their graduates to the Peace Corps or the military. Thus a number of small southern liberal arts colleges -- Fisk, Wofford, Spelman and Presbyterian -- all fare very well in this ranking system relative to those in USNWR. Carleton, ranked #5 in USNWR for national liberal arts, goes to 30, behind both Macalester (16) and Grinnell (25). What I find odd is the idea that when parents are shopping for schools they should look at ROTC and Peace Corps as indicators of quality, or the number of PhDs in the natural sciences only. The guide appears to be much more elitist in outlook of what some liberals in DC think schools should do rather than what parents would want. Parents might wish to use instead ISI's Choosing the Right College.