Everyone from the government to the New York Times is in the business of rating or ranking colleges. None of the proposed ranking systems have been fully embraced and many worry that these attempts to rank and rate schools reveal major flaws in our approach to higher education in the U.S.
For many years now, the US News & World Report rankings of “America’s Best Colleges” have served as an influential force in the decision-making process for many colleges and universities across the country as they attempt to improve their rankings or aspire to be included in what many consider a prestigious list of top institutions of higher learning. However, Andrew P. Kelly of the American Enterprise Institute, one of many scholars who are critical of the rankings, recently cautioned readers of Forbes why the US News & World Report rankings are less about the quality of the institution and more about who they admit. In the article, Kelly notes that the “fastest and most surefire way to climb the ranks is to attract better students, typically by raising SAT benchmarks, rejecting more applicants, and ensuring that admitted students choose to go (yield). Raising tuition doesn’t hurt either.”
In the same Forbes article, Kelly discusses the recently released “Upshot” college ratings list from the New York Times, which is intended to measure and reward economic diversity. Kelly quickly took the Upshot list to task, pointing out that the criteria of selecting only four-year colleges that have graduation rates of at least 75% immediately narrowed the list down from 3,100 to only 98 institutions. Of those 98 institutions that met the selection criteria, most have relateively total enrollment, are private and selective, and enroll a very small raw number of first-time students who receive Pell grants. Although a unique approach to measuring which institutions are better addressing economic diversity in their student body, Kelly reminds the reader that the impact is very small since these institutions enrolled just 16,000 of the 8.9 million Pell grant recipients last year.
Finally, the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania, recently released a report critiquing the Obama Administration’s College Scorecard and offered an alternative approach. Essentially, the authors of the report suggest that the proposed scorecard includes misleading metrics around performance and cost that disproportionately negatively affect minority-serving institutions, particularly historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Instead, the authors present alternative, more equitable approaches, such as aligning metrics with the priorities of students, creating features of the scorecard that can be customized, and developing a probability score to reflect varied and complex student needs and reward successful student outcomes.