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Originally published August 26, 2013 at 7:32 PM | Page modified August 27, 2013 at 10:49 AM

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UW gets high ranking in new college guide

Four of the state’s six public universities made a new list of schools that offer the most bang for the buck. And the University of Washington was ranked 13th among all national universities for promoting social mobility, research and service.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

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A new national ranking has put four of the state’s six public universities in the top 100 in the country for offering the best quality for the price. And the University of Washington was ranked 13th among all national universities for the degree to which it promotes social mobility, research and service.

In Washington Monthly’s eighth annual college guide, community colleges in Washington state also did well when compared to their peers, with five appearing in the nation’s top 50.

The national nonprofit magazine, based in Washington, D.C., has been advancing a new way of looking at college quality for eight years. In its guide, which consists of a number of different ways of ranking schools, it awards the highest marks to schools that “contribute to society, enroll low-income students, help them graduate, and don’t charge an arm and a leg to attend,” the magazine’s editors wrote in a statement.

In the September/October issue, the magazine also called out schools that offer the most for the money, and editor-in-chief Paul Glastris said he believes the “bang for the buck” criteria are very similar to the rating system promoted by President Obama last week in his call for new ways to put pressure on schools to keep tuition costs down.

The Obama administration is “talking about measuring colleges by how many lower-income students they recruit, whether they graduate them, what the net costs are to those students and how well they fare when they get out,” Glastris said. ”That’s precisely what our ‘Best Bang for the Buck’ rankings do.”

The best-deal schools were chosen because they have a reasonable tuition rate, serve a large number of low-income students, have a graduation rate above 50 percent and have low student-loan default rates.

Among the top 100 schools in the nation — a list that includes public and private schools, large and small — the UW ranked 19th, Western Washington University 54th, Central Washington University 70th and Washington State University 91st.

Glastris believes one of the reasons why college tuition has gone up by such eye-popping figures in recent decades is the pursuit of prestige and national rankings. “The incentives are all for spending more money, being more exclusive, and impressing other colleges, rather than focusing on the needs of students,” he said.

He is especially critical of U.S. News & World Report, whose rankings, he says, reward colleges that admit students with high SAT scores, have large endowments, and are considered prestigious by their peers — all things that lead college administrators to spend more money with little regard to how tuition is affected.

There are a couple of different ways to look at the Washington Monthly ratings.

In addition to the “best bang for the buck” ranking, the magazine also rates schools for the degree to which they improve social mobility, produce research and promote social service. Schools are rewarded for having high graduation rates, a large number of students receiving federal Pell Grants, successful research programs, and service to the country, such as joining the Peace Corps or ROTC.

Among national universities, the UW ranked 13th. The UW was eighth on Washington Monthly’s list of national universities last year, but Glastris said he didn’t consider the drop significant.

The UW was helped by the amount of research money it spends, as well as the number of science and engineering Ph.Ds it awards and the number of its faculty members who are members of the national academies.

It also has a large number of alumni who go on to serve in the Peace Corps — a measure Washington Monthly counts as service to the country.

WSU, the only other university in Washington classified as a national university, was ranked 145th.

The magazine ranked community colleges using different data, including student responses to a national survey about the quality of teaching, and federal data on retention and graduation rates.

The five Washington community colleges on the list included four in the Puget Sound area: Cascadia Community College in Bothell, 22nd; Green River Community College in Auburn, 44th; Tacoma Community College, 46th; and Highline Community College, 47th. The Washington community college with the best rating was Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, which ranked 15th.

The magazine also took a close look at the community-college system in San Francisco, labeling it the worst in the country.

“San Francisco has horrible community colleges, almost uniformly,” Glastris said. “Seattle has some of the best. Which metro area do you think is going to be doing best, long term?”

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong

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