Stanford University and Harvey Mudd College Top Washington Monthly’s 2022 Best Colleges Rankings

Washington Monthly chose Stanford University as the nation’s top national university and Harvey Mudd College as the top liberal arts college in its new College guide 2022.

Washington Monthly presents its ranking, first published in 2005, as the socially responsible alternative to ranking of colleges by US news and world report, who is accused of relying too much on measures of wealth, exclusivity and prestige that are subject to inaccurate reporting or institutional rigging, as illustrated by recent allegations involving Columbia University.

Washington Monthly emphasizes the social and intellectual contributions that institutions make to the country. According to its editors, “Instead of ranking colleges based on wealth, fame, and exclusivity, we prioritize social mobility, public service, and research.” These methodological differences are important – although there is considerable overlap between Washington Monthly and American News best schools, there are also many important differences as shown below.


Three equally weighted composites are used to arrive at Washington Monthlyrankings. Each of the three measures incorporates several publicly available data components that differ somewhat depending on the type of facility being assessed. here is the methodology for national universities:

  • Social mobility uses nine indices, including overall graduation rate, difference between actual and predicted graduation rate (based on student body composition), percentage of students who receive Pell scholarships, number of scholarship graduates Pell, college affordability, actual versus expected student earnings 10 years after college entry, and two measures of student loan repayment.
  • To research consists of five criteria, including total institutional expenditure on research, number of science and engineering doctorates awarded, number of former undergraduates who earn doctorates, prestigious faculty awards, and proportion of faculty members of national academies.
  • Community and national service combines six factors: the percentage of students in campus ROTC programs; percentages of AmeriCorps students and former Peace Corps students relative to college size, as well as whether colleges match the Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards; the percentage of work-study money spent on community service projects; whether the institution has received the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification (a measure of community engagement), the level of electoral engagement of an institution’s students, and the share of degrees awarded in the fields of health, education and social work.

National universities

Here are the top 20 national universities classified by Washington Monthly. In parentheses, the corresponding classification by American News.

  1. Stanford University (6)
  2. University of Pennsylvania (8)
  3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2)
  4. Princeton University (1)
  5. Duke University (9)
  6. Harvard University (2)
  7. Yale University (5)
  8. Cornell University (17)
  9. University of California, Berkeley (22)
  10. Notre Dame University (19)
  11. University of California, Davis (38)
  12. Dartmouth College (13)
  13. Brigham Young University (79)
  14. California Institute of Technology (9)
  15. Georgetown University (23)
  16. University of Wisconsin (42)
  17. University of Illinois (47)
  18. Louis National University (range: 299-391)
  19. University of Washington (59)
  20. University of California, San Diego (34)

Six of Washington MonthlyThe top 20 schools in are public institutions, including three campuses in the University of California system. In comparison, only one public university – UCLA – does the American News top 20. Seven of Washington Monthly‘s top 20 do not appear in the top 30 for American News.

Even bigger differences are found in the broader set of rankings. For instance,

  • Utah State University is No. 22 on the Monthly list and #249 on the American News list (a difference of 227 points).
  • Tulane University is #407 in the Monthly ranking; American News ranks him in 42nd place (difference of 365 points).
  • Baylor University is ranked #382 by the Monthly; American News has it at #75 (difference of 307 points).

Liberal arts colleges

Washington Monthly has a separate classification of liberal arts colleges, schools that focus on undergraduate education, especially in the arts and sciences. Using a smaller number of indicators for the research metric than for national universities, the top 20 colleges (with the American News rankings in parentheses) are:

  1. Harvey Mudd College (28)
  2. Pomona College (4)
  3. Wesleyan University (17)
  4. Washington and Lee University (11)
  5. Berea College (30)
  6. Williams College (1)
  7. Swarthmore College (3)
  8. Claremont McKenna College (8)
  9. Lafayette College (38)
  10. Amherst College (2)
  11. Bryn Mawr College (30)
  12. Haverford College (16)
  13. Smith College (17)
  14. Middlebury College (9)
  15. Grinnell College (13)
  16. Macalester College (27)
  17. Bowdoin College (6)
  18. Carleton College (9)
  19. Saint Benedict College (92)
  20. Wellesley College (5)

As in the past, Washington Monthly classifies establishments into several other categories, including:

  • Master’s Universitys (establishments delivering a large number of masters but few or no doctorates). The highest ranked institution in this category was Evergreen State University in Washington, followed by State University of New York – Geneseo and California State University – Los Angeles. Of the top ten schools in this category, five were campuses of the California State University system.
  • university colleges (establishments which almost exclusively award bachelor’s degrees). The top three were: California State University Maritime Academy, Ohio Northern University and Cooper Union.
  • Best Bang for Buck Colleges. Organized by five regions, the top-ranked schools were Union Institute and University (Midwest), Massachusetts Maritime Academy (northeast), Berea College (south), Washington and Lee University (southeast) and Brigham Young University (west) .
  • Best Colleges for Student Voting. This year, 230 schools made the list, 26 more than in 2021. Of these 230 schools, 127 had a student enrollment rate of 85% or higher and 39 were above 90%.
  • New to the rankings this year are lists of the best and worst professional certification programs in fields such as cosmetology, HVAC maintenance and medical assistants. The assessments for these sub-baccalaureate certificates focus on the average debt and income of students in these programs.

The next few days and weeks will see more university rankings released. Forbes publishes its results on August 30; American News will release its new rosters on September 12. Despite a growing number of methodological differences in the different ranking systems, the comparison of the results allows some generalizations.

First, a group of well-resourced, mostly private colleges and universities still do a lot of things very well. Regardless of the methodology, they rank highly in one of the most cited ranking systems. Examples include Stanford, Duke, MIT, and most Ivy League universities. The same goes for Williams College, Amherst and Swarthmore.

Second, public research universities do better with methodologies that emphasize social mobility, economic value, and research contributions. The campuses of the University of California and several flagship schools in the Big Ten illustrate this point. And, in terms of overall social impact, these institutions educate far more students than elite private ones.

Third, the rankings include a wider range of colleges, universities, and programs. The majority of post-secondary students do not attend Ivy League schools, elite colleges, or land-grant universities. They enroll in community colleges, public regional universities, urban institutions, and small private colleges. More information on the performance of these institutions is valuable.

Finally, the improvement of public data such as those contained in the college scorecard and the Integrated Post-Secondary Education System (IPEDS) allowed all ranking systems to focus more on student outcomes such as graduation rates, post-graduation earnings, social mobility, and indebtedness than on institutional inputs and expenditures, which were more frequently highlighted in the past. This is good news and Washington Monthly deserves credit for increasing national attention to these important indicators.

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