College Rankings: Where’s the Outcome Measure?

A Call for New College Ranking Criteria

Evaluating Colleges

We’ve all looked at them, some of us cautiously and some as though the information they provide is irrefutable. Whether we turn to Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger, or any other college ranking system, we must acknowledge that the conclusions drawn by these systems depend upon supposed facts to sort the top scorers from the others.

And while different companies measure different factors to determine college quality, the type of information used by any of them to justify the conclusions seems somewhat irrelevant in the current economy.

The U.S. News & World Report is one of the college ranking systems most referenced by students, parents and education professionals alike. U.S. News rates colleges on criteria that includes information about admitted students – the percentage of applicants admitted, their standardized test scores, and their class rank – as well as the percentage of alumni donating to the college, the student-faculty ratio, the average number of students in a class, and the level of degree held by the instructors. At first glance, these all look like relevant criteria for evaluating a college’s value, right?

Including Post-College Measures

Perhaps, but instead of information about students admitted to a college or university, many families today are more interested in what the school’s graduates have achieved after earning their degrees. The current economic climate and the price tag of $70,000— $220,000 over the 4-year track make the return on investment in a college education increasingly more important.

To date, none of the major companies that rank colleges consider what The Chronicle of Higher Education calls the “outcome measures.”  Outcome measures are most impacted by both finding a best-fit college and choosing a field of study, making the guidance provided by a few private education consultants or advisers – based on years of experience that includes following the success of students with whom they have worked – more important than ever before.

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