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on their loans. As Washington Monthly has shown in previous in-depth investigations, too many "dropout factory" colleges are built to fail, but don't stop enrolling tens of thousands of vulnerable students, year after year. Liberal Values Our new ranking of liberal arts colleges follows a pattern similar to national universities. Berea College tops this year's list, due to its steadfast commitment to providing a free liberal arts education to first-generation and low-income students in Appalachia. This year's candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have promised huge new federal subsidies to students attending public colleges and universities. Yet those plans leave out colleges like Berea, which arguably do far more to advance the public interest than selective public universities that skew toward the children of wealth and privilege. Washington and Lee University in Virginia vaulted all the way to seventh on our liberal arts college ranking, on the strength of its affordable tuition and its outstanding earning results-students earned $18,000 more per year than our statistical models predicted. Ripon College in Wisconsin outperforms its peers in enrolling first-generation and Pell students, helping them graduate, and sending them successfully into the labor market. Tougaloo College, a historically black institution in Mississippi, continues to outperform in graduating an overwhelmingly low-income student population while keeping prices affordable-although it, too, has a serious problem with students being unable to pay down their loans. Agnes Scott College, an all-women's institution in Georgia, jumped twenty-one places in the rankings this year in part due to superior earnings results, joining Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, and other women's colleges that have historically ranked highly on our measures of service and social obligation. Davidson College, a highly selective institution in North Carolina with a strong humanities tradition, rose to number twelve by virtue of strong earning and loan repayment rates, accompanied by generous financial aid policies for lower- and middle-income students. On the down side, Bennington College, ranked 227 out of 239, is probably still a good place to matriculate if you want to write, or live in, a book like Donna Tartt's The Secret History. But for everyone else, it offers stingy financial aid for needy students, below-par earnings and graduation rates, and comparatively little in the way of research and service. Regional Pride National universities and liberal arts colleges dominate mass media coverage of higher education, but they don't include the hundreds of regional and master's-granting universities that collectively enroll millions of students every year. Among the best of them, St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, shows that a traditional Great Books-focused liberal arts curriculum doesn't necessarily lead to living in your parents' 22 September/October 2016 basement at age twenty-five; earnings there rate comparably to similar schools, and a higher percentage of St. John's graduates go on to earn PhDs than any master's university nationwide. (Although this may lead to living in your parents' basement when you're thirty-five.) The Johnnies also enter the Peace Corps in high numbers. California State campuses are located throughout the upper ranks of our master's university rankings. They vary in how successfully they help students graduate and pay back loans, but their common thread is a high population of Pell-eligible students and unusually low net prices for students who aren't well-to-do-the legacy of California's historical commitment to accessible higher education, one that remains threatened by economic and budgetary pressures in the Golden State. The College of the Ozarks, a Christian liberal arts school in Missouri that offers free tuition to full-time students in exchange for work and service commitments (its trademarked nickname is "Hard Work U"), rose to number two on our ranking of baccalaureate colleges. The majority of undergrads there qualify for Pell Grants, nearly two-thirds graduate within six years, and their loan repayment rates are stellar because nobody has loans to begin with. Number five-ranked Calvin College, a Christian Reformed Church institution in Grand Rapids, Michigan, combines high loan repayment rates with an academically minded research focus, and it's one of the few colleges to simultaneously excel in sending graduates into PhD programs, ROTC, and the Peace Corps. Future Rankings College rankings are only as good as the data that form them. To rank a college based on what happens to its students after leaving school is to assert that colleges bear responsibility for events that are partly outside their control. Public institutions can be hostage to the whims of elected officials. When we celebrate or criticize an institution, we are really describing a confluence of individual actions, organizational decisions, and societal trends. But the great benefit of ranking the vast and diverse population of American colleges is that the imperfections and limitations of the data have a tendency to balance themselves out, revealing a critical truth: for any category of institution, serving any kind of student, there are colleges out there that truly stand out on every measure, or at least most of them, compared to other, similar schools. When it comes to serving their country, they simply do better, year in and year out, at one of the most vital and sacred responsibilities any public-minded institution can bear. Which is why we will continue to hunt and advocate for more information about the many ways colleges do or don't succeed. And it's why we will use that information, fairly and publicly, for the benefit of all. Kevin Carey directs the Education Policy Program at New America and is guest editor of the Washington Monthly College Guide issue.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Monthly - September/October 2016

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