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Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Choosing Metrics for a National College Rankings System
It has been about a year since the Obama administration announced its intent to implement an official college ratings system. The system is just one component of the administration's mission to overhaul education on a national scale. President Obama has stated that, in addition to being accessible and affordable, higher education should also have a predictable value.
This does not sit well with many universities.
The administration aims to answer a very simple question-are graduates getting jobs? If so, do those salaries justify the price tag of a college education?
Arguably, the existing ratings systems serve universities better. US News and World Report is one of the most well-known. It bases its rankings on metrics such as mean SAT scores, graduation rates, and, notably-acceptance rates. Such metrics can be problematic for a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which is this: they measure a university's exclusivity, which isn't necessarily the same as its overall value to the average consumer.
The government is hoping to value things such as employment rate following graduation. Colleges may not like this. Public universities balk that many of their graduates may ultimately work in the public or non-profit sector, earning relatively low salaries. They argue that salary shouldn't be the measure of the quality of a degree.
That may be true, but students deserve to be able to make a cost-benefit analysis before dropping huge amounts of tuition on an education they may not be able to afford.
This week, the Obama administration reached out to colleges, asking them to offer suggestions regarding acceptable metrics to use in the ratings system. This places colleges in an awkward position-they must at least appear to embrace the transparency of this new process despite the fact that it makes college sound like a commodity, rather than a pedigree.
Prestige alone, however, won't pay the mortgage. Watch this space to see how the government system eventually shakes out.
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