New Washington Monthly Rankings: A Strong Resource for Families Earning $75,000 or Less

The new Washington Monthly rankings, like those in previous years, measure the “contribution to the social good” of universities–but this year’s rankings also include a “Best Bang for the Buck” list that ranks institutions according to their net cost to families with incomes of $75,000 or less.

The best bang measure also reflects the best deals for a family’s first time, full time college students.  The magazine may have added the measure in anticipation of President Obama’s higher ed policy announcements, which propose rewarding institutions that perform best in graduating lower income students who receive federal loans, without incurring high default rates.

Washington Monthly has for some time taken a dim view of the U.S. News rankings, and in the recent issue alleges that the U.S. News list is based on “crude and and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige.”  In our view, the U.S. News rankings are useful in some ways, but we strongly agree that they over-emphasize the financial resources of the universities they evaluate, with the result that public institutions are generally underrated.

Below are the top 50 national universities that yield the best bang for low- and middle-income families, according to Washington Monthly.  In parentheses, we will also list a university’s overall ranking by the magazine in the national universities category.  The overall ranking considers the percentage of Pell grant recipients; the graduation rate; the graduation rate in relation to the predicted rate given the number of low-income students; and the loan default rate, which must be no more than 10 percent.

A school’s overall ranking also reflects the dollars brought in by research, B.A. to Ph.D. progression; science and engineering Ph.D.s granted; faculty honors; ROTC and Peace Corps participation; community service requirements; and use of federal work-study funds.  Thus a school’s overall ranking could be enhanced by its academic and research achievements, but also by high ratings in the other areas.

Please note that only the top 284 schools out of more than 1,500 reviewed have a published overall ranking; therefore, some of the schools below will not have a ranking in parentheses.

1. Florida (24)

2. Georgia (60)

3. North Carolina (14)

4. North Carolina State (38)

5. Texas A&M (3)

6. San Diego State (192)

7. Arizona State (49)

8. Indiana (127)

9. Washington (13)

10. Florida State (70)

11. East Carolina (171)

12. Central Florida (211)

13. Utah State (44)

14. Vermont (167)

15. UC Riverside

16. UC Berkeley (5)

17. Oklahoma State (142)

18. Minnesota (56)

19. UC Irvine (84)

20. Arizona (66)

21. UCLA (10)

22. UCSD (1)

23. Michigan State (30)

24. Utah (103)

25. UC Davis (23)

26. Purdue (33)

27. UC Santa Barbara (27)

28. Iowa State (96)

29. Michigan Tech (64)

30. Rutgers at Newark (150)

31. UC Santa Cruz (65)

32. UT Austin (18)

33. SUNY Albany (110)

34. Nebraska (113)

35. Binghamton (174)

36. SUNY Buffalo (204)

37. Illinois (19)

38. Nevada Reno (175)

39. Rhode Island (240)

40. South Dakota State (207)

41. Oregon (128)

42. Washington State (145)

43. Oklahoma (165)

44. Missouri Science and Tech (59)

45. Kansas (75)

46. Western Michigan (123)

47. Illinois State (248)

48. La Verne

49. Oregon State (108)

50. Bowling Green (157)

Please see the Washington Monthly site for the full list of big bang for the bucks universities.