MIT Plummets in Public Service Rankings; Texas A&M Now Ranked First

While most know about MIT’s slide into seventh place in U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings this year, some might be surprised to learn that in another magazine, MIT fell from first to 13th. This year, political magazine The Washington Monthly, which evaluates schools based on service to the country, ranked Texas A&M University first.

The Washington Monthly’s rankings, first published in 2005, are based on measures of social mobility, research, and public service. Each of these categories is given equal weight in the rankings. MIT ranked first in both 2005 and 2006.

“Rank reflects MIT’s performance relative to the other universities,” Ryan Anderson, spokesperson for Washington Monthly, said in an e-mail. MIT’s drop to 13th “is most likely the result of changes in the data for a number of institutions.” The Washington Monthly standings are not as stable as the U.S. News & World Report rankings because one quarter of the formula in U.S. News is peer review, and the reputation of a school does not vary much over a short time span, Anderson said.

The first category that is addressed by Washington Monthly is social mobility. The magazine analyzes schools by predicting graduation rates based on incoming SAT scores and the number of Pell grants awarded. Pell grants are awarded to low-income undergraduates and are a measure of how many under-privileged students attend an institution.

The predicted graduation rate for MIT this year was 102 percent, reflecting the fact that incoming MIT students have very high SAT scores and that there are very few Pell grant recipients this year. Washington Monthly does not cap the predicted graduation rate at 100 percent.

The difference between MIT’s actual graduation rate (94 percent) and the predicted graduation rate was used as the measure for social mobility. MIT was ranked 205 in this category this year.

The source of SAT score data is the Department of Higher Education, Anderson said. “The change in MIT’s SAT scores would not have affected this ranking, nor did it have any effect on the U.S. News rankings, because it was just not statistically significant,” MIT Director of Institutional Research Lydia S. Snover said.

MIT ranked second overall in the number of PhDs awarded in 2007. This number contributes significantly to the research category ranking. Another component is the amount of research grant money that a college or university is awarded. MIT ranked 15th in this category behind schools such as Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington, which ranked first and second, respectively.

A common contention with the Washington Monthly rankings is how the research category is measured. By using the absolute value of grant money awarded as opposed to a proportional measure that incorporates the size of the faculty or student body, this category gives an advantage to larger schools. Washington Monthly argues that this advantage is acceptable because larger schools generally have larger research capabilities.

The final category deals with the amount of community service performed by students and graduates of a school. The category takes into account the number of graduates that join the Peace Corps and the size of Reserve Officer Training Corps programs. These two groups are considered representative of other service organizations even though some schools such as Princeton do not have ROTC programs.

“We feel that participation in the military is a big part of social service,” Anderson said. The ROTC program at MIT ranked 13th.

Also included in the community service category is the percentage of Federal Work-Study Funds that are spent on service in the local region. MIT has improved in this area because of new community service programs offered by the Public Service Center, such as ReachOut, a part of the America Reads literacy program.

Although MIT dropped this year in the Washington Monthly rankings, the Institute still performed better than many of the most selective colleges and universities in the country that also sit at the top of the U.S. News rankings. Harvard University was ranked 27th in this year’s Washington Monthly rankings.