Washington Monthly ranks four UC schools in top five in its 2014 university rankings

The top universities in the latest rankings look much the same as they did a year ago, with only slight ups and downs.

No, we’re not talking about Princeton, Harvard and Yale and where they stand atop U.S. News and World Report’s annual list of national universities. If you want to know how the elites stack up this year in the famed U.S. News ranking, you’ll have to wait until Sept. 9.

Rather, the subject here is the Washington Monthly’s 2014 list of top national universities. The Monthly, a policy magazine for wonks and insiders, has ranked universities since 2005 on how much good they do for the country. It uses measures such as the social mobility that schools provide students, the research output of faculty and students, and the degree to which students engage in public service.

The metrics are arbitrary, of course, but so are those of U.S. News.

The Monthly’s top national universities this year, with last year’s rank in parentheses, are:

1) University of California at San Diego (first in 2013)

2) University of California at Riverside (second)

3) University of California at Berkeley (fifth)

4) Texas A&M University (third)

5) University of California at Los Angeles (10th)

6) Stanford University (sixth)

7) University of Washington at Seattle (13th)

8) University of Texas at El Paso (seventh)

9) Case Western Reserve University (fourth)

10) Harvard University (eighth)

Georgia Tech, the lone university to fall out of the top 10 in the Monthly list, didn’t slip far. It is now 11th.

Elite private universities tend to dominate the U.S. News rankings.

The Monthly puts a premium on measures that reward the performance of certain public universities. Schools with a low net cost and a high share of students from low-income families tend to have an edge. UC at Riverside is a case in point. More than half of its undergraduates come from families with incomes low enough to qualify for federal Pell grants.

In a separate list called “bang for the buck,” the Monthly seeks to identify schools that do the best job of “helping non-wealthy students attain marketable degrees at affordable prices.” Three regional public universities in Maryland and Virginia made the top 100: Towson (63rd), Radford (81st) and Salisbury (93rd).

A year ago, President Obama said the federal government would begin to rate colleges on measures of access, affordability and value.The federal ratings are still in development, with a draft model expected to be released this fall. But the idea has drawn strong criticism from many universities and higher education lobbying groups.

In the magazine’s September/October issue, the Monthly’s editor in chief, Paul Glastris, defends the Obama plan. “The deal that higher education has traditionally enjoyed in America — billions in tax dollars, zero responsibility for results — is certainly a sweet one,” he writes. “But in an era when a college degree has never been more expensive or more important for upward mobility, it’s one we can no longer afford.”

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.

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