There's an interesting spin on college rankings and Washington Monthly is pointing it out in a relatively new listing of institutions of higher education.
According to its description ask not what your college can do for you (U.S. News and World Report College Rankings 2010) but ask what your college can do for your country. And when it comes to schools giving back to their communities, California scores big time.
Five of the top six universities are in the state of California. And all but one is a public institution. In fact the public institutions are all UC campuses.
"This recognition is important especially at a time when the state's investment in higher education is waning and we can still achieve beyond expectations," says Penny Rue, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at UCSD which ranked number one on the Washington Monthly list.
Not only is she delighted that UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Davis are highly ranked at 2,3 and 5 respectively, she adds that the judgment criteria is an interesting combination. Stanford University is number 4 on the list.
Washington Monthly's 4th annual list takes into consideration service--giving back to the community.
For example, UCSD has 90 student organizations which focus on community service. There's also a program that encourages UC students to help low income, less privileged children achieve the necessary tools and skills to take the SATs so that the disadvantaged become college eligible.
Also when it comes to social and economic mobility, its students tend to graduate in areas that earn them the highest starting salaries in fields like engineering and bio-technology, areas that also make significant scientific contributions.
Research is another criteria for which UC San Diego excels. In fact, it was listed in the top 20 out of 100 schools in Sierra magazine's ranking of America's greenest schools. And then there the school's cutting edge research in cancer and climate change.
UC schools in general rank high in recruiting low income students, says Erin Dillon, senior policy analyst with Education Sector, a Washington D.C. think tank which did the study for the Washington Monthly.
She describes them as "engines of social mobility." In fact, Dillon offered up her own example to me, citing her home state of Virginia where their flagship public institutions include William and Mary and University of Virginia. Their average recruitment of Pel Grant students (federal loans offered to students in need) average around 8% whereas UC schools average 26%.
"It's not an arms race she says with the U.S.News and World Report rankings," but there is an appreciation she says among the schools on their list of the institutions that often get overlooked.
So at a time when investing in higher education is both a challenge financially as well as socially you need all the information you can get your hands on.
And Washington Monthly's Rankings is one that definitely should make your list.