August 26, 2014

The college rankings of U.S. News and World Report have many well-known problems, the worst of which is that they basically recapitulate the existing hierarchy of status and wealth among schools. As a result, many others have gotten into the rankings game in an attempt to provide an alternative metric, and of those, the Washington Monthly's College Guide (full disclosure, I used to work for the magazine) has probably the most principled effort.

Here's how they set up their rankings:

We ask a different question: What are colleges doing for the country? ...To identify the most public-minded institutions, we rank every four-year college and university in America based on three criteria: social mobility, research, and public service. Instead of crediting colleges that reject the most applicants, we recognize those that do the best job of enrolling and graduating low-income students. Our rankings measure both pure research spending and success in preparing undergraduates to earn PhDs. And by giving equal weight to public service, we identify colleges that build a sense of obligation to their communities and the nation at large.

The Monthly's 2014 rankings are out, and as usual they have some rather surprising top schools:

-Top National University: UC San Diego

-Top Liberal Arts College: Bryn Mawr

-Top Master's University: Creighton University

-Top Baccalaureate College: Elizabeth City State University

This year, they've also got a Best Bang for the Buck measure, ranking the most extreme bargains in each category, and a new "Affordable Elite" measure, ranking traditional highly-selective schools based on how much of a break they give their poor students. Also worth checking out is an article on America's worst colleges, heavily featuring private, for-profit institutions.

Check out the full guide here. Ryan Cooper

study says
1:13 p.m. ET
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The U.S. saw its highest level of terrorism-related arrests since September 2001 this year, a study released Tuesday reveals. Through a review of social media accounts and legal documents, researchers at George Washington University found that 56 individuals were arrested in 2015 for either supporting ISIS or plotting to assist the extremist group. "The individuals range from hardened militants to teenage girls, petty criminals, and college students," GWU's director of the program on extremism Lorenzo Vidino told The New York Times. "The diversity is staggering."

That diversity, Vidino suggests, is exactly why identifying and monitoring potential terrorist threats can be such a challenge for law enforcement agencies. "For law enforcement, it's extremely difficult to determine who makes a big leap from keyboard jihadist to doing something," Vidino said.

The average age of the Americans arrested was 26, though individuals ranged from a 15-year-old boy to a 47-year-old former Air Force officer. The overwhelming majority of arrests made were American citizens or permanent residents. An estimated 40 percent of those arrested were converts to Islam and over half of those arrested had attempted to travel abroad.

The FBI has about 900 open inquiries into activity related to ISIS. Becca Stanek

This just in
12:57 p.m. ET
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An explosion near a major subway station in Istanbul, Turkey injured at least five people, with some reports suggesting that the blast resulted from a handmade bomb. "The cause of the explosion is not known. We are assessing every possibility," Istanbul Gov. Vasip Sahin said.

Hurriyet newspaper and the Dogan news agency reported that the blast was the result of a bomb; the local mayor of the Bayrampaşa district, where the blast took place, also called the explosion the result of an bomb. An earlier report from Reuters suggested the explosion was caused by a power transformer.

Kurdish rebels have been responsible for several bombings in Istanbul in the past year. The Islamic State has also carried out attacks near the Syrian border as well as in the capital, Ankara. Jeva Lange

This just in
12:42 p.m. ET
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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy Tuesday, less than a week after officials released dashcam video footage showing white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. The department had refused for over a year to release the video, which has since led to Van Dyke being charged with murder and sparked protests and demands for reform.

Emanuel hired McCarthy in 2011 to take over the city's law enforcement. The mayor has also requested a "top to bottom" review of the city's police department. Becca Stanek

fowl language
10:56 a.m. ET

You might want to skip getting your true love a partridge or a pair of turtle doves this season if you don't want to break the bank: This year's "12 Days of Christmas" price index, which totals the cost of all the items named in the song, is the most expensive yet. Oddly, the birds are to blame for the .6 percent price increase from 2014, while items like gold rings didn't change in cost (a surprise to economists, who saw the value of gold dip this year).

The cost of partridges rose an entire 25 percent over 2014 due to the bird's "growing popularity as a gourmet food and in backyard farming," according to PNC Wealth Management, who produces the list. A partridge, then, will run you about $25 — the pear tree you stick it in costs $189.99, only a 1.2 percent increase over last year by comparison. The price of turtle doves was additionally up 11.5 percent due to increased grain prices, costing $290 for the pair.

This year, the cost of all the items named in the "12 Days of Christmas" would total $34,130.99, up from $33,933.22 in 2014. Online purchases of the items in 2015 would be higher, at $43,626.73 once it's all said and done. Jeva Lange

Your tax dollars at work
10:44 a.m. ET
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Following in the annual tradition of former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, current Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford has released a list of 100 "federal fumbles" — questionable and sometimes comical spending decisions made by the government this year.

The football-themed report targets expenses like a silent production of Shakespeare, energy-efficient dishwashers that used so little water they had to run two cycles to work, llama showcasing regulations, and marketing for raisins. Headlining the list is the $43 million spent on a single gas station in Afghanistan, an expenditure which was lambasted in a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in November.

"Cited here are not only prime examples of wasteful spending, but also federal departments or agencies that regulate outside the scope of the federal government's constitutional role," Lankford wrote in the introduction. "I firmly believe my staff and I have the obligation to solve the troubles of our nation, not just complain, which is why for every problem identified, you will also find a recommended solution." Bonnie Kristian

Box office report
10:36 a.m. ET

If Forbes' "Hollywood's Biggest Turkeys of 2015" list is any indication, not even an A-list star can guarantee a movie will make money at the box office.

The year's biggest financial flop was Bill Murray's Rock the Kasbah, which features Murray as a "washed-up tour manager [who] finds himself in Kabul trying to turn a young Afghani woman into a TV singing competition winner." The film grossed $2.9 million on an estimated $15 million budget — meaning it made back only 19 percent of the money that it cost to produce.

Murray was far from the only A-lister with a flop on his hands this year. Sean Penn's The Gunman ranks second-least profitable, with only a 27 percent return rate. Also on the list are Chris Hemsworth's Blackhat, Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone's Aloha, and Johnny Depp's Mortdecai:

1. Rock the Kasbah (19 percent return)
2. The Gunman (27 percent)
3. Blackhat (28 percent)
4. Unfinished Business (41 percent)
5. Jem and the Holograms (46 percent)
6. Self/Less (47 percent)
7. American Ultra (55 percent)
8. We Are Your Friends (60 percent)
9. Aloha (71 percent)
10. Mortdecai (79 percent)
11. Pan (80 percent)
12. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (94 percent)
13. Jupiter Ascending (104 percent)
14. Tomorrowland (110 percent)
15. Crimson Peak (114 percent)


These 15 flops aside, 2015 has been a really good year for box office sales. Forbes reports that this year's sales are projected to hit record levels and top $11 billion for the first time in industry history. According to IMDb's estimates, the year's number-one earning movie was Jurassic World, which raked in a whopping $652 million — nearly 225 times Rock the Kasbah's earnings. Becca Stanek

10:21 a.m. ET
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A bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill this week repealing key elements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the Bush-era education program that has been widely criticized for its transfer of educational authority to the federal government and emphasis on standardized testing.

The new bill is called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and it will continue standardized testing but return significant discretion in these programs to the states. The federal government will also be completely removed from the teacher evaluation process, in contrast with the NCLB waiver program.

ESSA has been endorsed by the National Governor's Association, and it is anticipated to pass in the Senate and win the president's signature by the end of 2015. See more details of what the bill will entail here. Bonnie Kristian

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