What do you want from college?

The Modesto Bee, August 21st, 2010

Seeing many of our young folks packing up and heading off to college this month has us wanting to do the same.

But where should we go? When it comes to universities, who's No. 1?

Well, that depends on who's doing the rankings, what the rankings are based on, and what you're looking for in a college education.

As we reported earlier this week, Harvard University came out on top in the latest edition of U.S. News & World Report annual university rankings.

The news magazine based its rankings on a variety of factors, from academic quality to financial and faculty resources to graduation rates.

But while Harvard received the highest marks from U.S. News, it scored only average in another ranking of America's colleges and universities.

As we also told you, in a column by Kathleen Parker, a study by the nonprofit American Council of Trustees and Alumni graded more than 700 institutions on their commitments to seven core subjects that contribute to a balanced, competitive education.

When it came to requiring its students to master composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. history, economics, math and science, Harvard managed only a "C."

That trend also was true of some well-known California schools that placed high in U.S. News' rankings. Stanford tied for fifth, but also received only a "C" from the council; UC Berkeley ranked 22nd but got an "F," one of five UC campuses to get a failing grade; USC came in 23rd but managed only a "C," and UCLA, which trailed its crosstown rival in 25th place, also earned only a "C."

What about schools closer to home? Like California State University, Stanislaus? Or Fresno State? Or UC Merced? Or University of the Pacific?

Let's take a look at some of our valley universities:

Stan State: U.S. News ranked the Turlock campus No. 48 among nearly 90 top-tier regional universities in the western U.S. Among all the California State University campuses, Stanislaus ranked in the middle of the pack, barely trailing Fresno and San Jose but faring better than San Francisco, Sacramento and seven others. But in the ACTA grading, it scored a solid "B," with good marks in composition, history, math and science.

Fresno State: The Bulldogs tied with San Jose for 44th in the U.S. News regional university rankings, and, like Stanislaus, received a "B."

UC Merced: The five-year-old campus wasn't included in U.S. News' annual rankings of national universities, but its report card from the ACTA showed a "C" for commitment to a comprehensive education.

UC Davis: Like some of its UC counterparts, Davis scored well in the U.S. News report, ranking 39th out of the nearly 200 top-tier national universities. But also like some of its UC peers, it received an "F" in ACTA report.

UOP: The private Stockton university wound up in 99th place in the national university rankings, but managed only a "D" on its comprehensive ed report card.

Other than perhaps giving you bragging rights over a spouse or friend who attended a college that received a lower ranking or grade, what's all this info really worth when it comes to selecting a university?

If you place greater emphasis on things like prestige and reputation—and if price is no concern—the U.S. News rankings may be of help. But if your goal is obtaining a well-rounded education, the ACTA report cards may help you find the best bang for your buck. And it may be close to home.

Signup to Receive ACTA's Newsletter & Email Updates