Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mandating a College Report Card: The Key to Higher Education Accountability, Transparency, and Reform

First let me apologize to regular readers of this blog, for which this will be largely redundant. But this is my most concise presentation to date of the argument that colleges should be required to show that they provide benefit to students if they want to receive the fortunes in taxpayer aid they currently receive.

Colleges: Want federal aid? Your home page must include a College Report Card
No purchase is made with less informed consent than a college education. If I were the Education Potentate, I'd tell colleges:
We require every home, drug, packaged food, etc. to provide disclosures. For example, every tire must bear a report card rating its treadlife, temperature, and traction.  
If you want federal financial aid, your homepage must include a College Report Card listing, for your institution and your three top overlap institutions, the following:
This version is for so-called four-year institutions. A similar version could be created for "two-year" colleges.

    • Your true four-year graduation rate (no exclusion of athletes, legacies, minorities admitted under special compensatory programs, etc.)
    • The average freshman-to-senior growth on a specified standardized test of writing, critical thinking, oral communication, quantitative skills, and information literacy. Scores would be reported for each SAT/ACT quintile. To avoid overburdening the institution, only a random sample of 150 freshmen and 150 seniors would take the exam. To ensure examinees give full effort, the scores would be posted on their transcript.
    • The full projected four-, five- and six-year cost of attendance, subtracting cash financial aid. A separate number would be reported for different levels of family income and assets. The six-year cost would be estimated by adding the percentage that the college increased its price in the previous six years.
    • The percentage of graduates who, 12 months after graduation, are in graduate school or employed in a job requiring a college degree. The results would be broken down by major. That would not unduly burden the institutions: The institution's alumni survey usually contains similar information, and the U.S. Department of Labor categorizes jobs that way. I am agnostic on whether the institution should also report the average salary. Money does matter, especially with higher education costing so much but I fear that students would give projected salary undue weight.
    • The results of the most recent student or alumni satisfaction survey. Because those surveys vary widely, the College Report Card would include only three results: the average rating of academic, non-academic (extracurricular, housing, location,) and overall experience at the institution. Each institution would be required to anchor the questions on a four-point scale from "poor" to "excellent."
    • The most recent accreditation visiting team report and Association action.
Of course, mandating a College Report Card would empower prospective students to more wisely choose a college. Even more important, shining the light on what's behind the ivy might finally embarrass deficient colleges into reallocating resources from shrubs, sports, showcase buildings, sterile research, and porcine administrations to investments more likely to transform students into excellent thinkers, professionals, and citizens. That may ultimately be America's best hope for its future and may finally enable higher education to become the national treasure it claims to be.

HERE, I more thoroughly present the case for a colleges being required to post a College Report Card.

And HERE, I make the case in The Atlantic.

And here is a video I created to make the case.


Anonymous said...

I especially agree that a college should list how successful the students have been in getting college-level work, post graduation.

I'm not sure that the number of graduates is a good indicator of the school's quality. My concern is that if a college is graduating 100's or 1000's of students each year the emphasis is on quantity and not quality. In fact I would think the exact opposite. If the curriculum is very challenging and the drop-out rate is high it means something when a student does pass the courses and graduates.

Maria Lopez said...

For employment there is a problem that recessions or conversely good opportunities in jobs that don't require college could artificially lower the number of graduates in fields that require a degree.

There is also creeping credentialism where fields that didn't require a degree come to require one. I don't know if these problems are big enough to worry about.

I like the idea of multiple, transparent, criteria however.


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