Berea College | Courtesy of Lexington Herald-Leader

By Linda Blackford | Lexington Herald-Leader

For the second year in a row, Berea College has been named the top liberal arts college in the United States.

This ranking, however, is not from U.S. News and World Report, and it doesn’t look at ACT scores or the size of a school’s endowment. Instead, Washington Monthly’s 12th annual college ranking judges schools on how well they serve low-income and first-generation college students, the kinds of jobs graduates get, and how much public service they perform.

“Unlike the prestige- and wealth-driven metrics put out by the likes of U.S. News and World Report, our rankings measure what colleges do for their country,” reporter Kevin Carey writes. “Instead of rewarding colleges for the number of applications they reject, we give them credit for enrolling unusually large numbers of low-income and first-generation students. Instead of assuming that the most expensive schools are also the best, we recognize universities that produce research, train the next generation of scientists and Ph.D.s, and instill their graduates with an ethos of public service.”

Berea wins in two categories: best liberal arts college in the nation and best “bang for the buck” college in the South.

Berea, founded in 1859 as a co-educational and racially integrated school, is one of just a few tuition-free schools left in the country. It is dedicated to educating low-income Appalachian students. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of Berea’s students are on federal Pell grants, which defines them as coming from low-income families.

Nationally, the graduation rate of Pell grant students is in the mid-teens. Berea’s graduation rate of Pell Grant students is 62 percent.

“Recognition for Berea College and our success in serving low-income students is especially gratifying,” Berea President Lyle Roelofs said. “The criteria for Washington Monthly rankings focuses on aspects consistent with Berea’s mission.”

Nearly half of Berea graduates pursue advanced degrees and half work in service-related occupations, Roelofs said.

The University of Kentucky ranked 184th among national universities, hampered by its relatively high tuition price — $12,540 — for families making less than $75,000 a year, and a relatively low number of Pell-eligible students — 25 percent — in a poor state. In comparison, the University of California at Davis, which is ranked ninth, has 32 percent of its students on Pell grants and charges $11,369 for families making less than $75,000 a year.

The University of Louisville ranked 221st among national universities.

Here’s how Kentucky schools finished in Washington Monthly’s “Best Bang for the Buck” ranking of colleges in the South.

Berea College, 1

Brescia University, 21

Murray State University, 28

Campbellsville University, 39

Georgetown University, 40

Eastern Kentucky University, 62

Asbury University, 66

Western Kentucky University, 77

Alice Lloyd College, 83

Bellarmine University, 84

Union College, 89

Transylvania University, 93

Thomas More College, 104

Kentucky Wesleyan College, 106

Lindsay Wilson College, 107

Northern Kentucky University, 108

University of the Cumberlands, 115

Morehead State University, 121

University of Louisville, 138

University of Kentucky, 141

Spalding University, 150

Kentucky Christian University, 161

Kentucky State University, 167

University of Pikeville, 168

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