Another Rating Fight

Online, for-profit colleges are apparently concerned about the American college rankings system.

The colleges were technically this year eligible for inclusion in the U.S. News & World Report rankings but most of them did not meet the criteria to be included. U.S. News & World later plans to release comparison of online institutions online. Some for-profit colleges, however, find the measures unfair.

According to an article by Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed:

Capella University has opted out of participating in the online education survey. Deb Bushway, Capella’s interim president… said the questions from U.S. News focus too much on how prepared students are when they enroll, instead of what they learn before graduating

“Unfortunately, the final questionnaire from U.S. News appears highly focused on inputs rather than outcomes. While the survey does include a few general questions related to outcomes, they provide no clarity on how the answers provided by participating institutions will be weighted,” Bushway wrote. “For the average 39-year old Capella learner in the middle of her career, where she finished in her high school class, her high school GPA, SAT and ACT scores and her geographical location are not particularly relevant measures of quality or excellence.”

The American Public University System submitted most of the information U.S. News requested as part of the survey, but university officials say the questions do not adequately capture student learning and career outcomes.

“The U.S. News criteria are rigid and specifically do not recognize the degree completion characteristics of working adult students who represent over 90 percent of our students,” said Jennifer Stephens Helm, the system’s vice president of institutional research and assessment, in a written statement.

Well, right. That’s because online colleges aren’t real colleges. They’re essentially companies that provide vocational training.

It’s good to point out that the U.S. News rankings are almost exclusively input-based but online colleges shouldn’t be surprised. U.S. News, frankly, doesn’t even do a terribly good job measuring the quality of America’s regular college. It’s essentially a prestige ranking. That’s fine in some sense; prestige matters. But why such a thing would ever be relevant to online schools is unclear. Some of them do a reasonably good job helping students prepare for jobs, which is exactly what they exist to do. But none of them are prestigious. Ranking them according to status is a futile effort.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer