Nashville, Tenn. (TN Tribune)–, an up-and-coming college rankings company, in response to a challenge to traditional college rankings from a recent Malcom Gladwell podcast, has introduced a new metric to measure and rank colleges based on how effectively they use their financial resources to produce academic impact. The results are sure to turn some heads.

Fisk University in Nashville ranked number 1 in Academic Stewardship.

Academic Stewardship is the new measure. It’s a ratio calculated with a formula that quantifies how much academic impact a college achieves, given its overall resources. Think of it as comparing a school’s academic bang to its institutional bucks. Here’s how it works.

Step 1: The Numerator

Three massive sources – WikipediaSemantic Scholar, and CrossRef – are searched for papers, chapters, books, and citations to individuals worldwide. Collectively, these databases contain billions of continuously updated data points about millions of individuals’ achievements.

Then, what’s called the Overall Academic Influence score of a given institution is calculated by combining all the “mentions” of the individuals who’ve been associated with it as faculty, administrators or alums.

The number crunchers at use artificial intelligence technology to search massive databases and measure the impact of academic work by individuals who’ve been affiliated with colleges and universities throughout the world. This step is based on the simple premise that the people who’ve been affiliated with a school determine its academic influence or quality.

Step 2: The Denominator

The denominator of the Academic Stewardship fraction consists of the product of three factors that tap different aspects of a college’s financial and human resources. Each factor is obtained from National Center for Educations Statistics’s IPEDS data:

  • Factor 1; the size of the undergraduate student body. Adjusting for size gives small and mid-sized colleges an equal chance of competing with larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, whose absolute influence may be bigger, will score higher using size-adjusted rankings.
  • Factor 2; the college’s budget. This factor gives an indicator of how much an institution spends to achieve academic influence. The budget includes salaries of faculty who contribute their influence to the institution. It also covers the cost of educating students, who, by becoming influential alumni, also add to the school’s influence.
  • Factor 3; The largest of the following i) total tuition and fee income for the year, ii) five percent of the institution’s endowment, and iii) 8,000 times the size of its undergraduate student body. This factor controls for the wealth of schools in terms of both the tuition it receives and the tuition costs that can be covered by endowments. It also controls for public institutions that charge virtually no tuition and may have no endowment, but which receive much of their funding from public subsidies. $8,000 was chosen as the amount because it approximates the lowest cost of education per student without an excessive subsidy.

Step 3: The Academic Stewardship Calculation

Divide the Overall Academic Influence of a college by the product of factor1 x factor2 x factor3. The larger the fraction, the greater the academic stewardship of a given college.

Academic Stewardship scores were calculated for colleges that enrolled at least 700 students and were among the 1,000 institutions with the highest Academic Influence scores (the numerator). The later restriction was imposed to “avoid schools that had extremely small overall influence but that would still come up high in Academic Stewardship because their financial resources were proportionately even more extremely small.”

The Top 20

Here are the top 20 colleges, based on Academic Stewardship scores (the top 50 can be found here):

Fisk University (Nashville, Tenn.)

Hampshire College (Amherst, Mass.)

Tougaloo College (Tougaloo, Miss.)

New College of Florida (Sarasota, Fla.)

Rust College (Holly Springs, Miss.)

Wiley College (Marshall, Texas)

William Jewell College (Liberty, Mo.)

Goshen College (Goshen, Ind.)

Hollins University (Roanoke, Va.)

Olivet College (Olivet, Mich.)

Menlo College (Atherton, Calif.)

Houghton College (Houghton, N.Y.)

Beloit College (Beloit, Wis.)

Dillard University (New Orleans, La.)

Earlham College (Richmond, Ind.)

Harvey Mudd College (Claremont, Calif.)

University of Jamestown (Jamestown, N.D.)

Reed College (Portland, Ore.)

Bennington College (Bennington, Vt.)

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (Socorro, N.M.)

Most of these schools never appear on any of the best-known college ranking systems, which typically put a premium on the wealth and prestige of colleges and universities. Some of them are well-resourced, small liberal arts colleges that carry high-end tuition sticker prices and have handsome endowments. But noteworthy also is how well Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which generally charge low tuition rates and have small endowments, perform using this methodology. Fisk, Tougaloo, Rust, Wiley and Dillard are examples.

“The upshot is that many of the schools that rank highly in academic stewardship are HBCUs as well as those in smaller towns and rural areas, which might otherwise lead some people to overlook them in favor of so-called ‘elite’ schools,” said Dr. Jed Macosko, academic director of and Wake Forest University professor of physics. “But we show why the smart use of an institution’s resources through committed investment in students who need more from their school is a better measure of excellence. This is why we want to bring attention to academic stewardship and the schools that exemplify this virtue.”

This new ranking approach deserves further attention and possible eventual modifications in the methodology. However, for now, it draws much needed attention to how academically influential a given college or university is with the resources it has at hand. And it shows that when smaller schools with fewer resources invest them in people and programs wisely, they can do proportionately better in producing academic influence than large, wealthy schools. Academic Stewardship recognizes colleges not for their influence per se but for their effectiveness in producing influence with limited means.