On Washington Monthly’s Ratings

Joe Malchow ’08 says Washington Monthly‘s college rankings, in which Dartmouth places 37th, are bogus. At the same time, he says the rankings can be used as a model for “a positive goal for the future.” The former view is correct; the latter is mistaken.

Malchow says the criteria the magazine used to rank students were the following:

percent of student with Pell grants, graduation rate, change in graduation rates, size of research grants, number of Ph. D.s awarded, (ranked) percentage of students in Peace Corps or ROTC, and the percentage of federal grants spent on community service.

Presumably, to reach this “positive goal,” Malchow recommends that Dartmouth improve some or all of these categories.

Raising the graduation rate is a noble cause, so long as educational standards are not relaxed. Increasing the number of students with Pell grants is charitable and raising the proportion in the ROTC is a good patriotic goal. None of these at all undermine Dartmouth’s mission as an educational institution, and could improve the school. The others could well do more harm than good.

Increasing the number of Ph.D.s Dartmouth grants and increasing the size of research grants would further divert the College’s attention from its undergraduates. Abandoning 236 years of educational tradition for the sake of an arbitrary college ranking by an obscure magazine is a poor idea. The College should perhaps improve on the basics (specifically its undergraduate education) before it seeks to be “a research university in all but name.”

The community service ideas likewise seem bogus. Shouldn’t Dartmouth’s mission be to educate students about the importance of service to the community instead of to usher students into the Peace Corps or to funnel federal monies to the Tucker Foundation? Support of such programs for their own sake is hardly a public good. In fact, an over-funded community service progam without students who care could do considerable harm.

Washington Monthly says such reforms could create “a wealthier, freer, more vibrant, and democratic country.” This would hardly be the case if the changes facilitate the continued decline of undergraduate education and the evolution of community service from genuine concern into a sort of do-goodery program.