UMBC, GMU Top 'Up-and-Coming' List of Colleges

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 20, 2009

No school in the Washington region ranks higher than 14th on the 2010 U.S. News & World Report lists of top liberal arts colleges and national universities, released Thursday. But two local institutions rank first and second on a companion list of Top Up-and-Coming Schools.

The annual report ranks the University of Maryland Baltimore County atop a list of schools singled out by peers in higher education for "striking improvements or innovations." UMBC has a strong record of diversity, highly competitive science and engineering programs and a research operation whose funding has more than doubled since the mid-1990s. In second place: George Mason University, a Fairfax County institution that has grown from a commuter school into a 31,000-student research institution with a $900 million construction campaign.

"We really believe we're reflective of the new America," said Freeman Hrabowski, president of UMBC. The school draws students from 150 countries and from a broad swath of Washington suburbs; its top feeder district is the Montgomery County schools. UMBC ranked fourth on a separate list of colleges with an unusual commitment to undergraduates, tied with Stanford.

U.S. News produces the most influential college rankings in an increasingly crowded field, but critics have questioned its methodology. The online journal Inside Higher Ed reported Wednesday that some college leaders put little effort into the "peer assessment" ratings that count toward 25 percent of an institution's ranking.

The report's success has spawned new lists to recognize a broader range of schools. One ranks top historically black colleges and universities. Howard University ranks second on that list this year, behind Spelman College in Georgia.

Harvard, Princeton and Yale top the list of national universities, based on peer ratings, graduation and retention, selectivity, student attributes and other factors. Williams, Amherst and Swarthmore rank highest among liberal arts colleges.

Several local institutions rank among the top 50 on those lists: Johns Hopkins (14th), Georgetown (23rd), the University of Virginia (24th) and the College of William and Mary (33rd) among national universities; Washington and Lee (14th), the U.S. Naval Academy (19th) and the University of Richmond (30th) among liberal arts colleges.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company