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Another College List

By Brian | November 9, 2005 | Share on Facebook

Jeff Porten sent me a link to the Washington Monthly College Guide. Here’s the setup:

[Colleges] produce most of the country’s cutting-edge scientific research and are therefore indirectly responsible for much of our national wealth and prosperity. They are the path to the American dream, the surest route for hard-working poor kids to achieve a better life in a changing economy. And they shape, in profound and subtle ways, students’ ideas about American society and their place in it. It seemed obvious to us that these heavily subsidized institutions ought to be graded on how well they perform in these roles, so we set out to create the first annual Washington Monthly College Rankings. While other guides ask what colleges can do for students, we ask what colleges are doing for the country.

This is fascinating, especially since our Alma Mater, the University of Pennsylvania, came out #9 on the list (one of only three Ivy League schools to crack the top ten, and one of only three US News top ten to repeat on this list).

The authors conclude with this:

Imagine, then, what would happen if thousands of schools were suddenly motivated to try to boost their scores on The Washington Monthly College Rankings. They’d start enrolling greater numbers of low-income students and putting great effort into ensuring that these students graduate. They’d encourage more of their students to join the Peace Corps or the military. They’d intensify their focus on producing more Ph.D. graduates in science and engineering. And as a result, we all would benefit from a wealthier, freer, more vibrant, and democratic country.

OK, so this is going to sound really obnoxious, but here’s the thing: I wasn’t a low-income student. I also didn’t attend college in the hopes of joining the military or the Peace Corps. I went to college to get a good job that could turn into a career.

I think the Washington Monthly list is a valuable one, if the attributes measured are what one is looking for in a college. The right school can literally be a life saver for a kid who’s caught in a downward economic or social spiral, and this gives great insight into which schools excel at providing that service.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’m that unique in my collegiate goals. If memory serves, a great many of my fellow students also viewed college as the path to a career, rather than a societal “leg up.” My guess is that this has to do with their middle-class upbringings, in which college was affordable (or at least close to it) for most, and expected by just about all. High school could probably get you a job, but college enabled you to have a career. Given that, I’d love to see someone produce a list of colleges that are best at preparing their students for the job market. Factors could include strength of the recruiting department, number of interviews per graduating student, number of job offers, average starting salary, average salary after 5 years, etc.

Given that my kids will probably view college in much the same way I did (and given that my kids have yet to go to college), this would be both a valuable and interesting list to peruse.

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