U.S. News college rankings vs. ACTA

Nine of the top 20 universities on the U.S. News best college list receive a failing grade in a different survey.

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Today U.S. News & World Distort—I mean U.S. News & World Report—released its college rankings for 2010. You can probably guess which schools came out on top; Harvard, Princeton, and Yale.

But yesterday the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA)—“an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities”—released its own set of grades, which use a completely different set of criteria.

The bottom line for ACTA is: “Which universities are making sure their students learn what they need to know.” And at whatwilltheylearn.com (“A guide to what the college rankings won’t tell you”), the organization rates 100 schools on whether the institution requires seven core subjects: Composition, Literature, Foreign Language, U.S. Government or History, Economics, Mathematics, or Natural or Physical Science.

Considered in these terms, Yale gets an “F” and Harvard gets a “D.” And 19 other schools that charge $30,000+ in annual tuition and fees—derisively referred to as “the $30,000+ club”—also get an “F.” In alphabetical order they are: Amherst, Bowdoin, Brown, Colgate, Cornell, Grinnell, Hamilton, Haverford, Johns Hopkins, Middlebury, Mount Holyoke, Northwestern, Oberlin, Smith, Swarthmore, Vanderbilt, Vassar, Washington University, and Wesleyan.

Not surprisingly, ACTA goes out of its way to mock schools that allow “frivolous” classes to satisfy core basic requirements—classes like “Introduction to Popular TV and Movies” and “Bob Dylan.” Or my personal favorites: “Oral Histories and the Portland Brownstone Quarry” (Wesleyan), and “Ki ho’alu: The New Renaissance of a Hawaiian Musical Tradition.” (Stanford).

Meanwhile, the two most expensive schools that received an “A” from ACTA—Baylor and the University of Texas (Austin)—charge in the neighborhood of $26,000 a year. And a few, like the two CUNY schools (Hunter College and Brooklyn College) are less than five thousand dollars a year. Those students can laugh all the way to the bank.