An intereting article over at the Washington Monthly, where Kevin Carey discusses the lack information about how school actually perform:
Imagine you’re about to put a chunk of your life savings into a mutual fund. Now imagine you peruse the various “best mutual fund” guides on the news rack, only to find they’re all missing crucial pieces of information. The guides list where the fund managers went to college, how much investment capital they’ve attracted, and what kind of “experience” investors had at the annual fund meeting. But they don’t tell you what you most want to know: What the funds’ rates of return have been–or if they’ve ever made a dime for anyone. You might still decide to invest in a mutual fund, but it would be a heck of a crapshoot. And with their scorecard hidden, fund managers wouldn’t be under much pressure to perform, let alone improve.
That imaginary mutual-fund market pretty much shows how America’s higher-education market works. Each year prospective college students and their parents pore over glossy brochures and phone-book-sized college guides in order to decide how to invest their hard-earned tuition money–not to mention four years of their lives. Some guides, like the popular rankings published by U.S. News & World Report, base ratings on factors like alumni giving, faculty salaries, and freshman SAT scores. Others identify the top “party schools,” most beautiful campuses, and most palatial dorms.
But what’s missing from all the rankings is the equivalent of a bottom line. There are no widely available measures of how much learning occurs inside the classroom, or of how much students benefit from their education.
And so, to put The Washington Monthly College Rankings together, we started with a different assumption about what constitutes the “best” schools. We asked ourselves: What are reasonable indicators of how much a school is benefiting the country? We came up with three: how well it performs as an engine of social mobility (ideally helping the poor to get rich rather than the very rich to get very, very rich), how well it does in fostering scientific and humanistic research, and how well it promotes an ethic of service to country.