Scoring Higher Ed's Success

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 The Scorecard May Not Tell the Score   

After the recent bus tour by President Obama proclaiming his new assessment proposal for higher education, I wrote an op ed piece raising some of my concerns about this approach. The piece was published in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette on Friday, August 30, 2013. I thought you might find it interesting. I would appreciate hearing your comments.

   




Friday, August 30, 2013


Scoring higher ed's success

AS I SEE IT

By Jack Calareso


In recent days, President Obama has unveiled his plan to reform higher education. The plan includes a "report card" for every college and university that measures affordability (tuition rates and increases, scholarships, loan debt), access (percentage of students eligible for Pell grants), and outcomes (graduation rates, transfer rates, graduate earnings, graduate school admissions). 


The federal government is not alone in promoting this simplified grading system. For years, families have used published rating systems from magazines, book companies and educationally related organizations to determine college rankings. Ranking systems abound so that you can not only find the college with the highest graduation rates, but the institution that parties the most. 


Scorecards and rating systems have become a phenomenon. Self-appointed experts frequently publish lists and assessments based on partial and unsubstantiated data and analyses that are not fully explained or vetted. Sadly, these get published (often self-published on the Internet), read by prospective students, and add to the confusion of college choice. 
Clearly, colleges and universities need to be transparent about their success and held accountable for their performance. Furthermore, access, affordability, success in graduation, etc., are important variables. But they simply do not tell the whole story and hardly provide the right score for every prospective student. 

The fact of the matter is that all college-bound students are not the same. President Obama has often said, and I agree, that every American should have the opportunity for a college education. I would go further and say that every American should have the opportunity to earn a bachelor's degree. But not every student is academically able, and some will need more time and extra support. 

My advice to every parent and prospective student is that if you can be admitted to Harvard, Yale or Princeton - and can afford it - go. If you want to be further away from home, Stanford is not a bad choice either. But not every student can either meet the admission standards or afford an Ivy League school. And thankfully, there are colleges and universities willing to admit these students and help them to succeed. 
The point is that the missing factor with these scorecards is the profile of the student population. At a highly selective college, it is no surprise that graduation rates are high. One would expect them to be close to 100 percent. But perhaps a college that admits and educates more at-risk students is equally or even more successful if it graduates 60 percent or 70 percent of its students. 

President Obama's plan also calls for colleges to be penalized for low performance with less federal financial aid. While this seems to be a logical outcome to a scorecard approach, I wonder if this will cause colleges and universities to become more selective and only admit students who demonstrate a greater ability to succeed. 
Who then will educate the more marginal students? Do they not deserve the opportunity for a college education? What are the implications for this country with a less educated population? 
It is certainly important to review academic and retention statistics and financial obligations, as well as other similar information when exploring a college or university. But this is only part of the necessary assessment of a college or university. 

The most important variable for students and families to consider when looking for the right college is fit: will the student be able to connect academically, socially and emotionally with the academic programs, campus life and values of the institution. If these aspects of a college search aren't priorities, the possibility of a student not succeeding in college life is compounded, no matter the grade the college or university received from some rating system. 

Students along with their parents need to have serious discussions prior to undertaking the college search process. What is the goal for the college experience? What institutions offer the academic programs and rigors that fit the student's goals and past achievements? What values are students and families looking for in the living and learning environment of a college? How will the financial obligation of attending college impact the student and the family? What is the ability of the student? 
Once these and similar questions are answered, students and families should visit the campuses of the institutions that will best meet their goals and objectives. And it is when you are on these campuses that you should explore and gain a better understanding of the data and statistics of the institution that can then be analyzed as part of the entire experience. 

As most qualified researchers know, statistics can vary depending on the sources used, methodology and analysis procedures. Don't let skewed data and grading systems compromise the college search process. Use all of the accurate information you can obtain from qualified sources, as well as the college or university itself, and then visit, visit, visit before you make your decision. Not every college is Harvard - but Harvard isn't for everyone.

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