National Press Club

Panel examines higher education ratings

September 8, 2019 | By Lawrence Feinberg

Paul Glastris, editor-in-chief of the Washington Monthly, said his magazine's college rankings were an effort "to break the stranglehold of wealth, exclusivity, and fame that is undermining the higher education system."

Kaitlin Pitsker, associate editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, said the college rankings in her magazine focus on value for consumers who want "a high quality education at an affordable price."

Kaitlin Mulhere, special projects editor at Money, said her publication's college rankings emphasize the net cost of a degree, discounting high sticker prices by average financial aid and years taken to complete a bachelor's degree.

The three spoke Thursday at a National Press Club panel on the role of the media in shaping public perceptions of the value of higher education. The Club also invited U.S. News and the Wall Street Journal to discuss their widely-used college rankings, but both publications declined to participate.

The program was sponsored by the Club's Events team.

The U.S. News Best Colleges rankings, which began in 1983, came in for heavy criticism from Glastris, a former correspondent for the magazine and speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. Glastris has been editor-in-chief of Washington Monthly, now published five times a year, since 2001. Washington Monthly started its college rankings and guide in 2005.

Glastris said U.S. News placed too much emphasis on university endowments and reputations that have helped turn many highly-selective colleges into "engines of inequality" rather than opportunity. He said Washington Monthly emphasized social mobility, research, and service, such as graduates entering the Peace Corps or becoming military officers.

In its rankings published last year, U.S. News said it had eliminated acceptance rate as a factor and reduced the weight of measures such as SAT scores and expert opinion. The weight of student outcomes was raised to 35 percent and the magazine said it incorporated new factors on the graduation rates of low-income students receiving government Pell grants.

Regardless of how the rankings are determined, in some categories there was considerable overlap. Of the top eight national universities in the U.S. News ratings, seven also were among the top eight in Washington Monthly.

Pitsker said her magazine tried to determine academic quality but this was "very difficult to define" in the absence of any uniform national measures of what colleges teach and how much students learn.

Mulher's publication became online-only earlier this year and emphasized the value added by colleges rather than the academic qualifications of entering freshmen, she said. She said Money focused on public colleges because that's where most students go.