Washington Monthly Rankings Measure Colleges That Best Serve Needy Students

By Allie Arcese, Sr. Director of Strategic Communications & Engagement

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

For the fourth year in a row, Washington Monthly analyzed data from hundreds of colleges to compile a list of those that best serve low- and middle-income students, based on measures of affordability and student success.

Dubbed the “Best Bang for the Buck,” the magazine’s rankings categorize different institutions into five different regions (Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, South, and West), and evaluate them based on five measures, including the school’s student loan default rate, graduation rate, graduation-rate performance, percent of Pell Grant students, and net price of attendance.

In the Northeast, the City University of New York Bernard M. Baruch Colleges was ranked highest, with a 2.9 percent student loan default rate, and a 62.3 percent graduation rate. Meanwhile, the net price for all students was around $6,000, and below $3,000 for students from the lowest-income families. On the West coast, the University of Washington–Seattle ranked first, with a 2.2 percent student loan default rate, an 80.3 percent graduation rate – noticeably above the national average (59 percent at four-year institutions, according to the Department of Education) – and a net price of about $9,000 for all students. East Carolina University was ranked first in the Southeast, with a 3 percent default rate, a 57.7 percent graduation rate, and an average net price of about $9,600. The magazine ranked the Michigan Jewish Institute first in the Midwest, with a 4.7 percent default rate, a 72.3 percent graduation rate, and an average net price below $9,000. About three-quarters of the school’s population also receive Pell Grants.

Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, writes in Washington Monthly that top-ranked colleges in each region effectively serve many students in an affordable way. Berea College, for example, was ranked first in the South, has a 7.4 percent default rate, a 64 percent graduation rate, and has a negative net price for the neediest students because it doesn’t charge tuition. But some ranked toward the bottom appear to produce starkly different outcomes.

Many University of Phoenix campuses, Kelchen writes, appear toward the bottom of the regional lists, “and for good reason.”

“Graduation rates are typically below 25 percent, one in six students default on their loans within two years of beginning repayment, and the net price per year is around $23,000,” Kelchen writes. “Although much of the for-profit college sector has faced scrutiny for poor outcomes and high prices, students should also be wary of some of the public and private nonprofit colleges with similarly poor outcomes.”


Publication Date: 8/25/2015

David S | 8/25/2015 2:13:58 PM

Percentage of Pell Grant recipients might say at least as much about the school's sticker price, applicant pool and location as it does about their packaging policy, strategy, outreach efforts or commitment to serving low income students. I mean, good for any school that does an effective job of educating those who can't afford it, that's what we're all in this for, but rankings/ratings tend to imply that those farther down the list are doing something wrong or not as well, but that's not necessarily the case.

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