To Improve Colleges’ Performance, Start With The Worst Ones, Report Urges

Career College Central summary:

  • While the White House proceeds with a proposed system to rate all colleges, in part to change the behavior of underperforming institutions, a new report from Education Trust suggests cutting to the chase: focus only on the worst ones.
  • In the report, released on Wednesday, the public-policy group calls for exercising "tough love" on institutions in the bottom 5 percent on three measures: the percentage of students eligible for Pell Grants who enroll, the overall graduation rate, and the student-loan repayment rate. Colleges identified as underperforming would receive "targeted assistance" and several years to improve their performance. If they failed to do so, the report’s authors suggest, they would lose access to federal dollars.
  • Every year the federal government writes "essentially a $180-billion check to institutions of higher education" in the form of federal student aid and tax benefits, said Mary Nguyen Barry, a co-author of the report, in an interview. "But virtually no form of outcome has been requested in return for those dollars. We’ve seen a lot of requests for inputs, but not in terms of outcomes." In this regard, Ms. Barry contrasted higher education to elementary and secondary education, where federal oversight is more widespread and penetrating.
  • Michael Dannenberg, another co-author and a former U.S. Education Department official and counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said that he supports President Obama’s rating system "in concept," but added that it seems clear "that the administration would rate every individual college, and figuring out how to do that accurately and fairly is very hard."
  • A much easier task, he said, would be to identify and address institutions "at the extremes of quality, the best and worst." The Education Trust’s report is aimed at dealing with the latter, which "contribute disproportionately to our problems with college success," he said.

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