Magazine raps value La. colleges deliver

Louisiana colleges, both public and private, aren’t very good in contributing to the overall public well-being, according to rankings released Monday by Washington Monthly Magazine.

They also don’t provide that much value, according to another list Washington Monthly released Monday, although the “Best Bang for the Buck” list excludes a number of schools where 20 percent of students or less qualify for federal financial aid.

Of the four Louisiana universities on the National Rankings list, Tulane University had the highest placement coming in at 100, while LSU had the second poorest showing with a 178.

LSU President King Alexander said he believes his school would have been better recognized for providing good value on the “Bang for the Buck” list if not for criteria that requires that schools on that list have upward of 20 percent of their students eligible for federal Pell Grants.

Only about 18 percent of LSU students qualify for Pell, Alexander said. If not for the 20 percent requirement, “I certainly think we’d be included,” he said.

Washington Monthly has garnered a strong following in some corners of academia for developing a system that some say is the most accurate predictor of a university’s success in taking students from enrollment through to graduation

One common argument is that other, more popular rankings, such as the ones found in U.S. News and World Report rely too heavily on nonacademic factors, such as how much money a university spends, how much money alumni donate to the school and how institutions are viewed by their peers.

Douglas Harris, an associate professor of economics at Tulane, helped come up with the criteria used in the Washington Monthly rankings.

The Washington Monthly list factors in the SAT and ACT scores of incoming students; student population; the number of students who qualify for federal financial aid; and the number of students attending school full time versus part time.

Those factors are used to come up with a university’s “expected graduation rate.” The expected graduation rate is compared with the school’s actual graduation rate and tuition costs to come up with a ranking.

The criteria are believed to better take into account which students are most vulnerable to not finishing school. For instance, low-income students are less likely than their peers to finish school; women are more likely to graduate than men; and students with lower test scores are less likely to make it all the way through graduation.

“Part of what we are trying to accomplish is to get people to change what they are looking for,” Harris said. “People typically look at prestige.”

Harris said “prestige” rankings don’t provide incentive for colleges to get better. “They just want to attract the best students.”

Harris added that the Washington Monthly rankings are similar to a new set of criteria proposed by President Barack Obama last week that would create a new ranking system that would measure colleges and universities on value, and then reward higher ranked institutions with a larger share of federal money.

One particularly bright spot for Louisiana is the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which was ranked the fourth best institution nationally on the magazine’s “Social Mobility” category, which measures how well school’s help lower-income students earn degrees.

“We are pleased to be recognized for our dedication to reaching out to and serving students with varying needs for financial assistance,” DeWayne Bowie, the school’s vice president of Enrollment Management, said.