College ratings are the Holy Grail

Had a listserv exchange with Bob Morse about the feds’ college ratings system, criticizing it and US News’ graduation rate model. He said “You are right that USNEWS is a for-profit company and we aren’t doing social science level analysis.” Here was my reply:

For-profit status has nothing to do with it.

When I make an error in one of my articles, I mislead about a dozen people around the world – the dozen that actually read something I write. We know that education leads not only to higher incomes, but greater life satisfaction and health; whether someone gets a degree is truly a life-altering event. And whether that event occurs depends in part on how students and families use information (such as US News) to make their choices. What you do for a living, Bob, can in some sense be seen as a matter of life and death.

So who should be held to a higher standard: unknown academic researchers, or people who publish information about colleges that students and their families actually use in their decision-making?

A valid institutional performance measure is like the Holy Grail of higher ed. No seems to have considered that there are many brilliant researchers in econ, education and sociology who would love to develop one. That one has not yet been developed should illustrate how difficult this issue is.

On second thought, it is exactly like the Holy Grail:

1. It does not exist.
2. Good people are wasting their time and energy questing after it.
3. Hucksters are selling cheap goblets to a gullible public.


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By Stephen

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Professor and quant guy. Libertarian turned populist Republican. Trying to learn Japanese and play Spanish Baroque music on the ukulele.

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