In a speech at the State University of New York in Buffalo, President Obama pledged to link financial aid to college performance. One of the major elements of the President’s conceptual approach involved a new ratings system to evaluate college performance. The ratings system would include such measures as how many students graduate on a timely basis, how well graduates do in the workforce, the average debt burden for graduates, among others. Financial aid would eventually be tied to those ratings.
A logical outcome would entail those ratings being added to or incorporated in the College Scorecard data now being reported and/or the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator website. The College Scorecard shows, among other things, the net cost of attendance at various colleges and universities, the six-year graduation rate, the loan default rate vs. the national average, and median borrowing. The College Navigator shows much of the same information provided by the College Scorecard, along with additional details concerning tuition, financial aid, enrollment, admissions, programs/majors, accreditation, and campus security. As a result, the proverbial foundation on which an increasingly consumer-oriented college evaluation system could be constructed already exists. Consumers, in this case, are existing and prospective students, along with their parents.
Nevertheless, the just-released Inside Higher Ed survey of college and university Admissions directors saw such publicly-reported data as unimportant in shaping student decision making and not especially helpful. When asked about the importance of a variety of resources in helping students find an institution that would be a good fit, only 15% of admissions directors ranked the College Navigator at or above “4” on a 5-point Likert scale where “5” indicates strong agreement and “1” indicates strong disagreement. For public institutions, the figure came to 20%.
When asked about their own view of the helpfulness of the College Scorecard, just 3% found the Scorecard “very helpful.” For public institutions, the figure was 5%. However, 42% stated that the College Scorecard was “somewhat helpful” (50% at public institutions).
With the public increasingly seeking value in higher education, policy makers increasingly concerned about the cost of higher education, and accreditors raising their degree of scrutiny, any development of a gap between the perceptions of college administrators and student and parent views related to such tools could complicate their ability to attract and retain students. The public tools are still fairly limited, but societal pressures will likely lead to their continued development and possibly increased adoption by existing and prospective students, parents, and policy makers for a range of decisions.
Careful and regular monitoring would give colleges and universities greater strategic flexibility than would otherwise be the case. Such strategic flexibility could offer one example of institutional effectiveness as it relates to an institution’s capacity to evolve in what is becoming an increasingly demanding higher education environment.