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.