Why we let underwhelming colleges host the debates.

Author:Glastris, Paul
Position::Editor's Note - Editorial

A little advice for the folks at the Commission on Presidential Debates: Next time you pick colleges to host the debates, check the Washington Monthly College Guide first.

The first presidential debate--and likely the most heavily watched--between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be held on September 26 at Hofstra University in New York. Getting to host this debate is a big publicity coup for any college and a high public honor. What has Hofstra done for the public to deserve it?

As it happens, the Washington Monthly has been ranking the nation's colleges and universities for more than a decade on precisely that question: How much do they contribute to the public good? We use three broad metrics. First, social mobility: Are schools enrolling and graduating students of modest means, charging them reasonable prices, and--a new measure this year--providing degrees that enable students to earn decent salaries after they get out? Second, research: Are colleges preparing undergraduates to earn PhDs and making new discoveries that will advance the economy and human knowledge? Third, service: Are schools encouraging their students to give back to the country by joining the military or the Peace Corps or serving their local communities? Our latest rankings begin on page 80.

How does Hofstra stack up? In the introductory essay to our rankings (page 19), guest editor Kevin Carey notes that the school "conducts very little scientific research, and its graduates are relatively unlikely to go on to earn PhDs." It has a subpar graduation rate and "enrolls relatively few low-income and first-generation students---perhaps because it charges students from households earning less than $75,000 per year a whopping net price of $28,865, one of the very highest rates nationwide." Its students don't go on to earn more than would be expected given their backgrounds and they pay back their loans at somewhat lower rates than expected. "Hofstra is doing okay for itself. It is doing little for anyone else," concludes Carey. "We rank it 297th out of 303 national universities."

The colleges chosen to host the other three debates don't score as abysmally as Hofstra. Washington University in St. Louis and University of Nevada, Las Vegas, come in 40th and 195th respectively among national universities. Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, ranks 249th out of 634 master's degree-granting colleges.

But why not honor the best? Instead of Washington...

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