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Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Colleges ranked on social giving

Seattle Times staff reporter

Ask not what your college is doing for you, but what your college is doing for the country.

That's the premise of a college-rankings list devised by the political magazine Washington Monthly. Instead of considering a college's academic performance, the magazine attempts to evaluate factors such as community service, social mobility and research spending.

By the Washington, D.C.-based magazine's measure, the University of Washington is doing well: It ranked 14th on last year's inaugural list and 15th on the newly released 2006 list.

The magazine makes no secret it's taking a prod to the most widely recognized college rankings: "America's Best Colleges" released annually by U.S. News & World Report since 1983.

Students, parents and college administrators have an ongoing love-hate relationship with the U.S. News rankings. Administrators routinely grouse about the methodology, while doing everything possible to maintain or improve their position on the list.

Some institutions, most notably Reed College in Portland, have refused to provide data or cooperate with U.S. News.

UW ranked 45th on the latest U.S. News list. Washington State University ranked 120th on both the U.S. News and Washington Monthly lists.

UW spokesman Norm Arkans said the UW performs well in a variety of rankings, reflecting a focus on quality research and a commitment to a diverse student body.

"If you take all the rankings and put them together, we feel pretty good about where we are," Arkans said, adding "we want to get better."

The editors of Washington Monthly argue that ranking academic performance is valuable, but that there's also a place for rating colleges' contributions to society.

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Included in the magazine's methodology is an evaluation of: the percentage of students enrolled in the Army and Navy reserves and percentage of alumni in the Peace Corps; the percentage of spending on research, especially in science and technology; and Pell Grants compared with expected graduation rates.

Tops on Washington Monthly's list for two years in a row is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In a news release on MIT's Web site, Sally Susnowitz, assistant dean and director of the MIT Public Service Center, called the Washington Monthly ranking "phenomenal."

"The first ranking helped MIT to gain recognition for its institutional priorities; this year publicly celebrates MIT's consistent commitment to inclusiveness, practical research, social mobility and public service," Susnowitz said.

The magazine is tough on some colleges that U.S. News ranks highly — for instance, Princeton University, which shares the first-place spot with Harvard University on the U.S. News list, places 43rd in the Washington Monthly rankings.

There are myriad other college lists to pick from, some serious, some not.

Newsweek International this week ranked the UW 22nd on a list of top "global universities," which measured research success as well as the percentage of international students and faculty. Newsweek/Kaplan also puts out a less-serious list of "America's 25 Hot Schools" with categories such as "Hottest for rejecting you" (won by Harvard in 2005).

And, each year, students eagerly scour the best "party schools" as ranked by The Princeton Review.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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