Even Mother Jones ranks colleges!

The famed U.S. News college rankings have been making news themselves. As George Leef reported in late April, some college presidents (24 at last count) are refusing to cooperate with the magazine; the Washington Post carried a story about the flap in May, and the Chronicle of Higher Education had a cover story labeled “The Numbers that Rankle.”

Disgruntlement with the U.S. News rankings has some validity. They depend a lot on reputation, plus inputs such as students’ SAT scores and faculty-student ratio – not on actual education (which is hard to measure). Graduation rates are something of an exception – they are at least an outcome, not an input.

Whatever their faults, rankings are popular (think Forbes’ “400 Richest Americans,” Money’s “Best Places to Live,” and Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For”). The good news is that U.S. News is not the only evaluator of colleges. And thanks to librarians at the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana. you can get a list of these. In the interest of providing the public with better information, here are some rankings you may have missed.

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine targets public universities. Those schools don’t score too well in the U.S. News lists, partly because public universities are less selective and have lower graduation rates than the most prominent private schools. So Kiplinger’s came up with the “top 50 best values” among public colleges. This list factors in both quality and cost. Unfortunately, like the U.S. News rankings, the Kiplinger’s measures of quality are mostly inputs.

UNC-Chapel Hill wins the Kiplinger’s race nearly every year – in close competition with the University of Florida, which came in second this year. A strength of these schools is their comparatively low in-state cost – Florida’s, at $10,716, is probably the cheapest of any state flagship school; UNC-Chapel Hill’s is $13,584. Although the magazine ranks schools on both in-state and out-of-state costs, for someone looking for a bargain the in-state tuition is key.

Yes, Mother Jones does rank colleges — on their activism. The radically progressive magazine hasn’t done a formal ranking since 2004, but a new one is expected in the September/October 2007 issue. In 2004, the three top winners were the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez; U.C.L.A., and Spelman College. At Mayaguez, students took over the Army ROTC building; at U.C.L.A., students protested the “separation wall” built in Israel by building their own out of cardboard and making students go through checkpoints; at Spelman, a historically black college for women in Atlanta, the students set out to challenge hip-hop star Nelly on his sexism. He didn’t show up, so they held teach-ins on the “representation of women in rap.”

Black Enterprise Magazine lists the “50 Top Colleges for African Americans.” Schools are ranked primarily on the basis of surveys of 500 higher education professionals about the social and academic environment for African Americans, plus the graduation rate for African Americans.

To be eligible for the list, a school must be at least 3 percent black. Top schools include both historically black schools and others. The top five in 2006 were Florida A & M, Howard, N.C. A&T. State, Harvard, and Spelman. As with U. S. News, reputation ranks high, but so does the graduation rate. In 2006, Morehouse, a historically black college for men, fell from 1st to 45th place when its graduation rate slipped from 56 per cent to 49 percent.

Templeton Honor Roll. A student (or parent) looking for a college that respects ethical standards should consider this list developed by the John Templeton Foundation. It contains 100 schools that “exhibit a strong and inspiring campus-wide ethos that articulates the expectations of personal and civic responsibility in all dimensions of college life.” The list isn’t updated often, but three private North Carolina schools — Elon, High Point, and Wake Forest – made the grade in 2000.

In a similar vein, you might want to read All American Colleges: Top Colleges for Conservatives, Old-Fashioned Liberals, and People of Faith, a guide to 50 colleges selected by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. For details, order the book, but the list of colleges (table of contents) is available on the Web site.

Princeton Review. Another kind of ranking attempts to capture student life beyond academics and, frankly, these are the most entertaining. The Review relies heavily on student surveys to create 62 lists of ”bests” and “worsts.” For example, you can find out at which schools “students pray on a regular basis” (Brigham Young and Wheaton are at the top) and those where “students ignore God on a regular basis” (Reed and Bard head that list). Other topics include “happiest students” and “least happy students” and “best campus food” and “is it food?”

There’s more: New Mobility’s top ten universities for disabled students, for example; Hispanic Magazine’s 25 best schools for Latinos ; and the top schools for Asian-Americans as listed on the Asian-Nation Web site.

You can get a glimpse of most of these – and other – rankings at the excellent Web site managed by the Education and Social Science Library of the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana. Be sure to read the library’s “Cautions and Controversy” page, which warns of the “ ‘game playing’ involved in college rankings.”

The greatness of American higher education stems from competition (compare its quality with, say, K-12 public education). Competition should work for ratings, too.