The best colleges

College rankings can be reformed to reflect teaching excellence, not just prestige and exclusiveness, writes Kevin Carey on Education Sector. His new ranking system relies on newly available data that can answer the most important questions:

Where are students taught the best? Where do students learn the most? Where do students have the best chance of earning a degree? Where are students best prepared to succeed in their lives and careers?

. . . New research and advances in technology in the last several years have led to a host of new metrics and data sources that together offer an unprecedented opportunity to measure how well colleges and universities are preparing their undergraduate students. The new measures provide information about a range of important factors like teaching quality, student learning, graduation rates, and success after college.

Some colleges that ace the U.S. News rankings do poorly; some unknown colleges do very well.

In a speech on college accessibility, affordability and accountability, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings also called for a ranking system that “directly measures the most critical point — student performance and learning.” However, she doesn’t think we yet have enough information on student outcomes.

You’d never buy a house without an inspection, take a vacation without researching your destination, or these days, buy groceries without reading the nutritional label.

. . . ACTION FOUR under my plan will provide matching funds to colleges, universities, and states that collect and publicly report student learning outcomes.

She also wants accreditation on whether students are learning, not on how many books are in the library.

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  1. These college rankings are sort of like asking “What’s the best color?”. Students vary enough that the best school for one isn’t the best for another, so picking a school from one of these lists is very silly. Also, as has been often pointed out, it doesn’t even matter that much. I went to Ohio State, which, at the time, had a vast number of really bad students (lots of party kids that weren’t very smart even when sober). I worked hard though, and got an excellent education — for instance, I got to study mathematical physics one on one with Robert Mills, of Yang-Mills theory, for 2 years while at OSU (how many wet-behind-the-ears undergrads get that kind of time with world-class faculty at Harvard?).

    For most kids spending $200K to send them to Stanford or Harvard or Yale probably isn’t worth it. Any big state school will do if they make use of it, and if they are going to coast, they might was well go to Chico State.

  2. Joanne Jacobs says:

    For WahooFive:

    It’s worth remembering that the purpose of the “U.S. News” college rankings is primarily to sell magazines. Accordingly, they change their evaluation requirements every year to ensure that the top-ranking colleges are different each time. They have no interest in establishing a consistent set of principles (if indeed that is possible) for evaluating the quality of colleges.