College: where the nation’s brightest young minds come for enlightenment, friendship—and a keen sense of their place in the meritocratic pecking order. At least that’s how it can feel in early September, when US News & World Report unveils its annual college rankings.
Thirty years after it first appeared—and four years after its sponsoring newsmagazine ceased normal print operations—USNWR’s flagship ranking now attracts as much competition as it does attention. Penn dropped a spot in the latest iteration, from 7th to 8th place. But the University could take its pick among ranking schemes this year.
According to an organization called College Factual, which purports to measure the excellence of 1,394 colleges using data while ignoring “reputation,” Penn is No. 1 in the land. Money, which orients its formula toward factors like the early-career earnings of graduates, ranked Penn No. 11 (behind No. 1 Babson College, ahead of No. 15 Yale). LinkedIn analyzed the success of college graduates in the labor market, and determined that Penn alumni topped the competition when it came to landing both marketing and finance jobs.
The New York Times got into the act this year with a focus on “how hard each college is trying to attract and graduate poor and middle-class students.” Penn ranked No. 29 out of 100 on that list, which, to the puzzlement of many observers, contained only three public institutions. Washington Monthly, which rated schools based on their contribution to the public good—as measured by their commitment to service, research, and accessibility to low-income students—placed Penn in the No. 41 spot.
What about contributions to the private good? Wealth-X and UBS waded into those waters by ranking colleges according to the number of billionaires among their undergraduate alumni. With 25, Penn has more than any other, according to their “Billionaire Census.” (Perhaps Penn just does a better job of getting them to stay through graduation; the report found that 35 percent of the world’s billionaires do not have a bachelor’s degree.)
And finally, the ranking that many a high-school senior finds the most titillating of all: Playboy’s list of the top party schools. To the bewilderment of presumably everyone who consults that magazine for the articles, Penn replaced West Virginia University in the No. 1 spot this year. Reactions on campus ranged from confusion to wry amusement.
“While students at state schools, or really any school, might be asking some questions,” the Daily Pennsylvanian’s Under the Button blog remarked, “we at Penn know not to submit a re-grade when we’ve got the A+.”