In a classroom in Bronzeville, on Chicago’s South Side, eight students are locked in intense debate about Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. They’re tearing Kohlberg apart, with justification, as far as I can tell, but keeping up with fast-paced Socratic dialogue about complicated philosophy is not my strong suit. I’m visiting this college, Shimer, because something quite calamitous has just happened to it.
The communications officer, Isabella Winkler, gives me a tour. Which lasts about three minutes. Shimer is tiny. The entire college is squeezed onto two slightly disheveled floors rented from a more successful neighboring college – the Illinois Institute of Technology. There are no sports teams at Shimer, no sororities. This place will never get ranked America’s No1 party school (which is currently the University of Pennsylvania, according to Playboy). No: the list Shimer currently tops is a miserable one. The reason why I’m here is because it has just been ranked the No1 worst college in America.
So what’s it like, this worst college? What criteria put it there? The compiler, Ben Miller, a former senior policy advisor in the Department of Education, explained in the Washington Monthly that they were looking for colleges that ‘charge students large amounts of money to receive an education so terrible that most drop out before graduation.’ Actually, Shimer topped a list that was adjusted for race and income. So a truer description is that it’s the worst college in America that doesn’t have many students of color or low-income students.