College rankings: 4 of America's worst schools are in California

"Washington Monthly" has compiled a list of the worst colleges in the U.S. based on price, student debt and graduation rates, among others.
Photo by Alex Jagendorf via Flickr Creative Commons

Just in time for back-to-school comes yet another college rankings list. The "U.S. News and World Report" probably has the most famous one. "Forbes" and "TIME" each have their own. And even President Obama got into the college ranking game recently.

This one is a bit different than the annual glut of "best colleges" lists. In fact, it's the complete opposite. "Washington Monthly" set out to find those institutions that — whether due to cost, debt or students' prospects after the mortarboard drops — should be avoided. And California is well-represented among them.

To find the worst of the worst, "We set out to make a list of the poorest-performing colleges," writes Ben Miller, a senior policy analyst with the New America Foundation’s Education Policy Program. "What we found is that, while good schools are basically all alike, every crappy school is crappy in its own way."

He continues:

"Whether it's a northeastern private college, a well-regarded midwestern public institution, or some other school rich with financial and reputational resources, any option will provide students with what really matters: overwhelmingly high odds of graduating from a well-recognized college."

These rankings, though, are for that "less fortunate" student who maybe can only get into lower-tier colleges and whose decision is more likely to be which schools to avoid. With the student loan delinquency problem only getting worse, more emphasis is being placed on the how much bang students are getting for their borrowed buck even at the lower-ranked colleges.

To find the "top" 20, "Washington Monthly" took that into consideration and based its overall worst ranking of 1,700 four-year colleges and universities on the four following criteria:

All criteria were weighted equally.

Four California colleges ranked in the "top" 10, including the private film school Columbia College—Hollywood (which is actually in Tarzana).

1 New England Institute of Art MA Private for-profit
2 Columbia College—Hollywood CA Private nonprofit
3 Fountainhead College of Technology TN Private for-profit
4 Saint Augustine's University NC Private nonprofit (HBCU)*
5 Platt College—Aurora CO Private for-profit
6 Becker College MA Private nonprofit
7 Brooks Institute CA Private for-profit
8 Mt. Sierra College CA Private for-profit
9 Menlo College CA Private nonprofit
10 University of Advancing Technology AZ Private for-profit
11 Columbia College—Chicago IL Private nonprofit
12 Cornish College of the Arts WA Private nonprofit
13 DeVry University IL Private for-profit
14 Clark Atlanta University GA Private nonprofit (HBCU)*
15 Midstate College IL Private for-profit
16 Shimer College IL Private nonprofit
17 Miami International University of Art and Design FL Private for-profit
18 Art Institute of Colorado CO Private for-profit
19 International Academy of Design and Technology—Chicago IL Private for-profit
20 Kansas City Art Institute KS Private nonprofit
  Source: 'Washington Monthly'   *Historically Black Colleges and Universities

"Washington Monthly" also complied rankings where graduation rates, degrees conferred to part-time and transfer students, and graduation rates of minorities and low-income students were weighted more heavily.

You can see those lists at their website.