Washington Monthly - September/October 2016 - 114

A NOTE ON METHODOLOGY: 4-YEAR COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES here are two primary goals to our methodology. First, we considered no single category to be more important than any other. Second, the final rankings needed to reflect excellence across the full breadth of our measures, rather than reward an exceptionally high focus on, say, research. Thus, all three main categories were weighted equally when calculating the final score. In order to ensure that each measurement contributed equally to a college's score within any given category, we standardized each data element so that each had a mean of zero and a standard deviation of one. The data was also adjusted to account for statistical outliers. No college's performance in any single area was allowed to exceed five standard deviations from the mean of the data set. All measures use an average of the three most recent years of data in an effort to get a better picture of a college's performance rather than statistical noise. Thanks to rounding, some colleges have the same overall score. We have ranked them according to their prerounding results. To establish the set of colleges included in the rankings, we started with the 1,863 colleges in the fifty states that are listed in the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and have a 2015 Carnegie basic classification of research, master's, baccalaureate, and baccalaureate/associate's colleges, are not exclusively graduate colleges, participate in federal financial aid programs, and plan to be open in fall 2016. As the Carnegie classifications were updated this year for the first time in five years, some colleges switched categories or moved into or out of our sample. This represents the first major update to our ranking categories since 2011. We then excluded 356 baccalaureate and baccalaureate/associate's-level colleges which reported that at least half of the undergraduate degrees awarded in 2012 were below the bachelor's-degree level, as well as eighteen colleges with fewer than 100 undergraduate students in any year they were open between fall 2012 and fall 2014, and an additional seventy-eight colleges with fewer than fifty students in the federal graduation rate cohort (first-time, full-time students) between 2012 and 2014. Next, we decided to exclude the five federal military academies (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, and Navy) because their unique missions make them difficult to evaluate using our methodology. Our rankings t 114 September/October 2016 are based in part on the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants and the percentage of students enrolled in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), whereas the service academies provide all students with free tuition (and thus no Pell Grants or student loans) and commission graduates as officers in the armed services (and thus not the ROTC program). This resulted in a final sample of 1,406 colleges and includes public, private nonprofit, and for-profit colleges. As a final precaution to weed out especially questionable colleges, we cross-checked every ranking with the Department of Education's second-level Heightened Cash Monitoring List. Then we randomly selected five schools on each of the lists, checked their status on the less drastic first-level Heightened Cash Monitoring List for signs of instability, verified their accreditation, and searched through local and national news clips over the past year for signs of problems. The social mobility portion of the rankings changed significantly this year in response to newly available data on student outcomes from the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, with four of the eight factors contributing to the social mobility score coming from the Scorecard data. A college's graduation rate (from the IPEDS) counted for 20 percent of the social mobility score, with half of that being determined by the reported graduation rate and the other half coming from comparing the reported graduation rate to a predicted graduation rate based on the percentage of Pell recipients and firstgeneration students, the percentage of students receiving student loans, the admit rate, the racial/ethnic and gender makeup of the student body, the number of students (overall and full-time), and whether a college is primarily residential. We estimated this predicted graduation rate measure in a regression model separately for each classification using average data from the last three years, imputing for missing data when necessary. Colleges with graduation rates that are higher than the "average" college with similar stats score better than colleges that match or, worse, undershoot the mark. A few colleges had predicted graduation rates over 100 percent, which we then trimmed back to 100 percent. We used IPEDS data for the percentage of a college's students receiving Pell Grants and College Scorecard data on the percentage of first-generation students in order to get at colleges' commitments to educating a diverse group of students. (Graduation rates for these groups of students aren't available yet in federal data, but Pell graduation rates should be coming in a year or two.) We then estimated predicted percentages of Pell recipients and first-generation students based on regressions using admit rates and ACT/SAT scores. The gaps between actual and predicted percentages counted for 20 percent of a college's score, with 13.33 percent for Pell

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