A new model for college rankings

brookingslogoDoug Lederman at Inside Higher Ed has written an interesting piece about a new Brookings Institution model for college evaluation.

The new model attempts to rank colleges in a “value-added” fashion that determines how much the college helped a given student improve toward career success. Many currently existing college rankings focus on elite colleges and on admissions statistics. Because of this, many of the students who go on to do well in career and pay are students who may have gone on to do well more or less regardless of where they went to college. The new Brookings model includes thousands of colleges and uses more statistics from after graduation in an attempt to isolate how much each college actually helps typical students achieve career success.

The creators of the model acknowledge that many will dispute the types of statistics that they gather, such as the supposed value of the skills listed on graduates’ LinkedIn profiles, and that many will dispute the model simply because it focuses so much on the economic benefits of college. However, they still argue that their model is a step in the right direction toward helping students find colleges with various elements in place to help them succeed in the workplace.

Following is an excerpt from the press release:

Using a blend of government and private data (from LinkedIn and Payscale), the report’s analysis shows:

  • A college’s mix of majors and the skills it provides students are highly predictive of economic outcomes for its graduates. Colleges where many students pursue degrees in fields like engineering, healthcare, computer science, and business see higher earnings among their alumni.
  • Colleges can boost economic outcomes for students by encouraging higher completion rates and offering generous financial aid.

Four-year colleges like Caltech (California), Colgate (New York), MIT (Massachusetts), the Rose-Hulman Institute (Indiana), and Carleton College (Minnesota) add the most value to student earnings potential. At the two-year level, top performers include NHTI Concord (New Hampshire), Lee College (Texas), and Pearl River (Mississippi). Value-added is defined as the difference between a college’s predicted and actual student economic outcomes.

“These college-specific data can be used to learn about, evaluate, and improve college performance,” said Rothwell. “Colleges serve very diverse populations. The advantage of measuring value-added is that it adjusts a school’s rankings based on the type of college and the characteristics of its student body.”

Compared to popular college rankings, the value-added method focuses on how well colleges contribute to student economic success, rather than simply their ability to attract top students. The new Brookings value-added database provides:

  • Value-added scores on at least one economic outcome for as many as 4,400 postsecondary institutions, compared to the 600 or fewer ranked by non-academic publications.
  • At least two measures of college quality for over 7,000 colleges, allowing prospective students to readily compare four- and two-year colleges on the factors predictive of success.
  • More accurate predictors of college performance relative to popular non-academic rankings.

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