The rankings exacerbate the status anxiety that afflicts so many high school students. The single-minded goal of too many high school students — pushed by parents, guidance counselors and society itself — is to get into a “good” school. Those who don’t land a prestigious admission feel like failures. Those who do but lack the means often wind up taking on onerous debt — a burden that can last a lifetime. And U.S. News has largely become the measure by which a good school is defined. “U.S. News didn’t invent the social dynamic,” says Carey. “What it did was very accurately empiricize them.”
As it happens, Carey has been working for a number of years with The Washington Monthly to compile a different kind of college ranking. (I was an editor at The Monthly in the late 1970s.) Instead of trying to serve as a gauge of status, The Monthly’s rankings attempt to gauge more useful measures: social mobility, for instance, or “bang for the buck.” Its top-ranked national universities this year are the University of California-San Diego and Texas A&M. Neither is ranked in the top 30 by U.S. News. All they do is graduate a higher percentage of students than you would expect given their populations — at a reasonable price.
Yes, The Washington Monthly’s rankings are yet another list compiled by magazine editors, inevitably flawed. But the point the magazine is trying to make is that this is the model of higher education we should be encouraging. Can you really disagree? I have no doubt that you can obtain a very good education at Texas A&M. As you surely can at many other institutions that don’t crack the top of the U.S. News rankings.
the views expressed on this site are the author's and the author's alone. they do not reflect the views of her employer or any professional organization with which she is now or has been affiliated.
i'm the leftist liberal you've been warned about - the one who genuinely supports the expansion of the welfare state. i love politics and data and graffiti and street art and am far too lazy to use my shift key. if you need to reach me, you can email to abbyjean at the google email service.