Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The College Report Card: Key to higher ed accountability

If we require each drug to submit mountains of data to the FDA, if we require each food item to list how much protein, calcium, etc it contains, if we require each tire to have a tread life, traction, and temperature rating molded into its sidewall, shouldn't we require each institution of higher education to post, linked-to from its home page, a College Report Card that presented this information?:

(This version regards bachelor's-degree institutions but, of course, could be adapted to Associate and graduate degree programs, as well as disaggregated for transfer students.)
  • Freshman-to-senior average growth in critical thinking, writing, quantitative reasoning, etc. (disaggregated by high school record)
(For you statisticians out there, a variable consisting of pre-post growth embeds significant error variance, but with the large N and that variable being only one of a number of indices of college quality, the wisdom of including a measure of growth outweighs the disadvantage of a large confidence interval. And if that argument is deemed inadequate, a reasonable proxy would be to use senior scores adjusted for high school weighted GPA and SAT score.)
  • The results of a recent student satisfaction survey
  • Four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates (disaggregated by high school record)
  • The percentage of graduates professionally employed, including average salary. (disaggregated by high school record and by major)
  • The accreditation team's most recent report on the college.
The first institution to voluntarily post such a College Report Card would get free PR from the media far more valuable than the fortunes that the institution spends on marketing to attract students.

I know that some readers of this blog are senior college administrators. If you're one, should you advocate for your institution being that first one to post such a College Report Card?

If you don't do it voluntarily, I predict that in light of the growing groundswell of articles questioning higher education's value as well as of the integrity of colleges' admissions operations, the federal government will mandate that you issue an independently audited report card. To encourage that, I have meetings scheduled with two potentially sympathetic legislators.


Anonymous said...

Yes, especially if federal (read: tax payer's money) trickles in via financial aid and/or research grants. However, we have a problem in this country: there are NO NATIONAL STANDARDS of educational curriculum like other developed countries. It makes it harder for this information to actually mean what it says. Until we all get into agreement what the heck is it that college-bound and vocationally-bound youth are supposed to know, we will never get to this stage of transparency and accountability. In reality, a college shouldn't get any financial aid if they're not working with students to graduate on-time with real-world skill sets.

Marty Nemko said...

I'm agnostic on the value of national standards. I understand its advantages but is it clear that Harvard should have the same standards as Ouitchita Baptist College? And the criteria I list are not easily arguable: critical thinking, writing, quantitative reasoning, etc.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

Sounds great to me, Marty.

Those metrics would be a great way to decide whether those lofty tuition dollars (and all the hidden costs, like books and fees and parking) are worth it!

jamient said...

I agree and I also think we need to make high schools more accountable. All incoming college students at California Community Colleges and Cal State Universities (I don't know about UCs) have to take a Math and English placement test. Many students test into 8th or 9th grade Math and English and need to take up to two years of prerequisite to get to the college level courses. Not only are the students prolonging their degree (if they don't dropout), they are paying more on tuition and books, but the tax payer pays as well as these are public institutions.

I think when colleges administer these tests they should track which high schools these students came from, and if the high schools have a high number of students who do not have college level Math and English skills they should be penalized. Just my opinion.

Strong Man said...

Good Point. Colleges need tremendously increased accountability. The waste in higher education is astounding--as you also point out in your medical education. Ask anyone how much of what they learned in college they actually use day-to-day. It will be precious little.

A friend is studying for the GRE is frustrated that all the math she needs for the GRE she learned in Jr. High and High school, and it's been so long its' hard to remember.

By the way, on this veteran's day, I thought you might enjoy my recent post on Men in the Military."

Thank you for your courage in writing!