Washington Monthly Releases 2018 Best College Guide

August 27, 2018


August 27, 2018 (WASHINGTON, DC)—The Washington Monthly magazine today released its 13th annual College Guide and Rankings, which rate colleges and universities on their contributions to social mobility, research, and public service. Unlike U.S. News & World Report, which rewards institutions for prestige, wealth, and exclusivity, the Monthly calls attention to colleges that serve the best interests of taxpayers and the country as a whole—including by enrolling and graduating students of modest means. This year, the College Guide also ranks the best and worst vocational credential programs, the first time any publication has ever done so.

The Washington Monthly’s unique methodology yields impressive results:

While all of U.S. News’ top 20 national university rankings are elite private institutions, half of the Washington Monthly’s top 20 are public schools, such as the University of California-Davis, Texas A&M University and Utah State. Half of the freshman class at some of these public institutions are first-generation and low-income students. 

Although some elite schools, such as Stanford and Harvard Universities, top the Washington Monthly list, others underperform. Johns Hopkins University, Rice University, and Northeastern University, which rank 11th, 14th, and 40th respectively on the U.S. News list, come in 62nd, 77th, and 232nd on the Washington Monthly rankings. Meanwhile, Augusta University, lowest-ranked on U.S. News, is 30thon the Monthly’s.

Among liberal arts colleges, Berea College and Salem College, ranked 68th and 117th respectively by U.S. News, are 1st and 24th on the Washington Monthly list.

For all the talk in political and policy circles about the need for skilled workers, no publication has ever ranked colleges on their vocational programs—until now. Using the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” database, released in the final weeks of the Obama administration and being eliminated by the Trump administration, the Washington Monthly ranked the best—and worst—vocational certificate programs based on future earnings in each of the 12 most common career programs. The findings are illuminating:

·      Some types of vocational programs lead to decent-paying careers—others, not so much. Graduates of the No. 1 HVAC program on the Washington Monthly list, Perry Technical Institute in Washington State, make $47,685 annually. But graduates from the No. 1 medical office assistant program, at Colorado’s Front Range Community College, make only $28,560 a year, just a few thousand dollars more than someone with only a high school diploma. 

·      The gap between the best and worst schools within career programs is even bigger. Welding certificate holders from top-ranked Northern Wyoming Community College make six times more per year ($52,225) than those from bottom-ranked Peninsula College in Washington State ($8,739). The earnings differential for massage therapists is ten to one. 

·      Massage therapy graduates of Intercoast Colleges, a for-profit chain in Orange, California, that ranks dead last in its field, earn $2,707 a year. And that’s median earnings—meaning half of them make less. “Certificates from such schools are worse than useless—they’re toxic,” says Washington Monthly Editor in Chief Paul Glastris, “because they typically saddle students with debts they may never be able to pay off.” 

The 2018 Washington Monthly College Guide includes yet another first of its kind set of rankings data: the colleges that do the best job at encouraging students to vote. Fifty-eight colleges—ranging from Ivies like Harvard and Brown Universities to lesser-known publics like Kennesaw State University and North Carolina State University–Raleigh—earned the top score. Others, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology—schools that sit atop the U.S. News & World Report rankings—earned the lowest possible score (zero). “If America’s 20 million college students were mobilized, they’d be 10 percent of all registered voters and could alter the political landscape overnight,” notes Glastris. “But instead of encouraging colleges to get their students to vote, Washington, D.C and the states are pushing in the other direction.”

The issue also includes in-depth feature stories on:

The prison-to-college pipeline

The future of higher education policy

Rural areas that are using an innovative approach to solve the problem of “higher education deserts” 


The Washington Monthly is devoted to ahead-of-the-curve coverage of politics, government, and public affairs. Its College Guide and Rankings, first published in 2005, has helped upend the conventional wisdom about what constitutes quality in higher education and was the 2013 recipient of the Education Writers Association Award for data journalism. Founded in 1969, the Washington Monthly has trained and published many of the biggest names in journalism, including James Fallows of The Atlantic, Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker, and Nicholas Confessore of The New York Times