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Washington Monthly's College Rankings: California Love!

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While the Great UCLA Versus USC Debate may never reach a resolution (those damn Trojans are too hard-headed and engorged with pride to recognize true superiority when they see it), all Californians can hold their heads up with pride thanks to our excellent universities. I don't know if you noticed the recent Washington Monthly ratings of the nation's top schools, but they're giving the U.S. News and World Report a run for their money.

The Washington Monthly ranks no less than five California schools in their top ten list: UCLA comes in at #2, while UC Berkeley and UC San Diego grab #3 and 4; UC Davis and Stanford round out the field at #8 and 9, respectively. And take heart, Riversiders: UCR is ranked #15. It's a proud, proud moment for the University of California family. Weep! And don't worry Trojans, you are representing SoCal at a respectable #24, which is a fair sight better than the U.S. News report's rank of #27. (Okay, okay, Massachusetts also represents itself nicely on both reports, as Bostonist pointed out today.)

Their methodologies are fairly different and result in lists that really seem to be comparing apples with oranges; the Monthly skews towards public universities rather than the Ivy League institutions and private schools that the U.S. News so slavishly praises each year. The U.S. News report has undergone a fair amount of criticism recently from organizations like The Annapolis Group, a group of leading liberal arts colleges who are boycotting the U.S. News's rankings and publishing their own evaluation next year.

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The Washington Monthly methodology (which you can read about here) is explained in a much more straightforward manner: essentially, a college's success is based on the community service, research, and social mobility of their students. The US News (read more about their methodology here), on the other hand, measures a college's rank by class size and student selectivity, faculty resources, retention and graduation rates, and amount of spending per students.

Essentially, the Ivy Leagues top the US News report because they are selective in their admissions, have a lot of money to spend on faculty and research, and graduate a high percentage of their students. Conversely, large public schools like UCLA and Texas A&M top the Monthly's list because a high percentage of their financial aid students end up graduating (the "social mobility" factor), they spend money on research and grant a high number of PhD's ("research"), and a measurable percentage of their students serve in the Peace Corps and ROTC ("service").

However, it's still good to know that even those supposed "ivory tower" institutions like MIT are doing their part to recruit and award students regardless of their economic standing, thereby transforming them into productive members of the community.

Moreover, the Washington Monthly's survey punctures holes in the assumption that students at private universities are somehow privileged over public school students. As LAist staffer Rob Takata pointed out, "There's this perception that USC is full of ultra rich children of Republican families, but as an undergrad I didn't know a single person who wasn't getting some sort of financial aid. The retarded perception that everyone at SC is wealthy is so overblown that the last time I went to a football game at Stanford stadium, their idiot students were shaking their car keys at the SC fans. Apparently, it's supposed to be insulting to point out that Trojans have cars. What the Stanford students fail to realize is that their tuition is higher than SC's."

Um. Rob? UCLA students shake our keys at you guys too. And our credit cards. And -- well, anyway, that's not the point, the point is, Los Angeles can bring it when it comes to fostering the intellectual lives of America's youth, and we have a wide variety of colleges, both public and private, that engender a sense of pride and accomplishment within their student ranks.

What's so strange is that while California's universities are kicking butt, our K-12 education consistently gets ranked at the bottom of the national barrel. What are we doing wrong with our kids that we somehow are fixing by the time they're young adults?

Photo of UCLA's Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden by Oleg Alexandrov via Flickr.