University of California Offers Pretty Good Bang for the Buck — For Now

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Several years ago the Washington Monthly decided to start up a new kind of college ranking, this one based on the actual social value of universities across the country. You can read the rationale for the rankings here, but I was struck by Paul Glastris’s introduction today:

Only one of U.S. News’ top ten schools, Stanford, makes the Washington Monthly’s top ten. Yale fails even to crack our top 40….Instead, the University of California – San Diego is our number one national university for the third year in a row, a testament to its commitment to educating an economically diverse student body while supporting world-class research. Six of our top 20 universities hail from the UC system.

This has been true ever since the Monthly started compiling its list, and the UC did especially well this year. And it kills me to read it. Not because the University of California earns such high scores, but because it’s doing it by living off its past glory. In the past, the UC was well funded and offered a top notch education that was affordable for practically anyone. The usual way to describe it was as a “jewel.” But that was decades ago. These days, it’s underfunded, not highly valued either by legislators or voters, less and less competitive at hiring the best faculty, and increasingly expensive. The fact that it still does so well in the Monthly’s ranking is a testament both to inertia and to the fact that public higher education is declining in the rest of the country too.

But that won’t last forever. The UC is still pretty good, but that’s only because it takes a long time for a great institution to crumble. It’s just damn sad to watch it.

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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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