New College Rankings: Harvard Gets a D


The latest college rankings are out: Harvard and Princeton (in a tie) and Williams are the best of the best national universities and liberal arts colleges respectively, at least according to U.S. News & World Report, who released their extremely popular, and controversial, list Aug. 19.

But Harvard, Princeton and Williams did not fare well with all the rankers, whose lists seem released just in time to stress out a new generation of college applicants.

The same three schools, and 97 other top colleges and universities, were evaluated in a new ranking system, also released Aug. 19, by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a nonprofit that studies academic quality and accountability.

The ACTA's grades: Williams, F; Harvard, D; and Princeton, C.

A New Way to Grade Higher Learning

The ACTA's surprising marks resulted in only seven schools getting As (none of them Ivy League), including the University of Arkansas, the City University of New York, Brooklyn College and Texas A&M University.

Another eye opener: The ACTA top-ranked schools are among the most affordable. For example, CUNY, Brooklyn College tuition is $11,181 a year ($4,381 for in-state students); a year at bottom-of-the-barrel Williams? That will be $37,640, please. In fact the 25 ACTA F-rated schools' tuition averaged $33,000.

The rankings shake-up comes as a result of the ACTA's criteria, described in detail on their new free site, which focus on the general education requirements of schools. In other words, do students need to take writing, mathematics or economic classes (among others) to graduate? And if so, are the course requirements stringent enough? Are there must-pass computer science and calculus-level classes, as opposed to classes such as "Fat Chance" which satisfies Harvard's Empirical and Mathematical Reasoning requirement even though the course is described as "not mathematically demanding."

(We won't even ask how $38,634-a-year Wesleyan University thinks a course like "Physics for Future Presidents" will help its graduates keep up with the math and science coursework that petroleum engineer majors, the highest-paying college undergraduate degree by the way, must study at competing colleges.)

Rankings aren't Everything

Of course some Yalies (ACTA grade: F) might say what they lose in having either "Chemistry in Popular Novels" or the "Search for Extraterrestrial Life" satisfy their science requirement, they make up for in networking with charismatic Skull and Bones types, such as Paul Giamatti. Not all of the college experience comes from coursework.

But with more students (and families) looking for ways to pay tuition, and with a more competitive job market awaiting the class of 2010 and beyond, considering just what you will learn may be as important as the criteria that U.S. News & World Report use that basically keep the same expensive schools at the top of their lists.

What do you think? Was your degree worth it? Are you satisfied with where you tuition money is going? Which list will you use to plan your path through higher education? Tell us in our comments section below!

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