Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Rankings for On-Line Programs: A Good Idea Whose Time Has Come

By Richard Vedder

Jimmy Atkinson sent me an interesting email this morning, informing me about his group's new effort at doing rankings of on-line, non-traditional educational programs. He has taken eight objective criteria for which data are generally available, and accumulated them to form an index that allows evaluations of these rapidly growing programs. Go to http://oedb.org to see the ratings.

This is good. As on-line education expands, we need to start gathering information for consumers and policymakers that helps us assess these programs. It is better to use objective (e.g., fact-based) criteria than unscientific, anecdotal evidence. It would be desirable to have more information on true "value added" learning associated with these programs, of course, not to mention some other still unavailable factual information. The quality of these programs needs to be related to their cost. And the question needs to be asked: qualitatively, how do these programs compare with traditional residential college learning?

I return to an earlier expressed view: we need more objective evidence generally to help evaluate the efficacy of the university experience at all institutions. I love the idea of one institution that gathered, for each graduation class, earnings data from the Social Security Administration on graduates. To do this routinely would require probably some modest change in federal law, but at least one school has overcome this obstacle. Earnings are not everything, but they are important to those who look at college from a financial investment perspective.

Three cheers for Jimmy Atkinson and his new effort. Let us hope that he or competitors expand and improve this effort in the interest of furthering consumer protection, competition, and efficiency.

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