Friday, March 28, 2008

A New Way to Evaluate College Performance

By Richard Vedder, Daniel Bennett, and Robert Villwock

We at CCAP have long complained that most rankings of colleges are largely based on inputs used in providing services, things like the faculty-student ratio or the average SAT score of entering students. Better would to evaluate schools on either consumer satisfaction (like we evaluate most other things) or on the post-graduate achievements of the products of the education --the alumni.

Accordingly, we have developed a new CCAP ranking system based one-half on student attitudes towards the faculty who teach them, based on ratings of professors on the popular Web site, and one-half on the proportion of graduates who achieve a high level of vocational distinction by being included in the 2008 edition of Who's Who in America.

A lot more work is needed to perfect the ratings, but we have a reasonably good measure already, and we want to show you that these rankings do often yield rather different results than the famed US News & World Report (USNWR) evaluations.
Below we list the top 15 national research universities and the top 15 liberal arts colleges on the CCAP ratings, and show by comparison, in parentheses, the USNWR rankings for those schools.


1. Harvard (2)
2. Yale (3)
3. Princeton (1)
4. Columbia (9)
5. Stanford (4)
6. Brown (14)
7. U. of Wisconsin (38)
8. Cal Tech (5)
9. Dartmouth (11)
10. Northwestern (14)
11. Boston College (35)
12. Cornell (12)
13. U. of Chicago (9)
14. U. of Pennsylvania (5)
15. Michigan State U. (71)


1. Williams (1)
2. Hillsdale (97)
3. Amherst (2)
4. Haverford (10)
5. Washington and Lee (15)
6. Wellesley (4)
7. Swarthmore (3)
8. Reed (54)
9. Barnard (30)
10. Davidson (9)
11. Oberlin (20)
12. Smith (17)
13. Wabash (52)
14. Knox (80)
15. Bennington (106)

To be sure, there are a good deal of similarities in the lists. Of the top 15 CCAP universities, 12 are on the USNWR list of top 15, and of the top 15 CCAP liberal arts colleges, seven make the USNWR top 15. But there are some big disparities, especially among liberal arts colleges. In the top 15 CCAP liberal arts schools, five are not in the top 50 on the USNWR. Most dramatically, Hillsdale ranks #2 on the CCAP list, but a so-so 97 on USNWR. Also doing dramatically better on the CCAP rankings are Reed, Wabash, Knox and Bennington colleges. For years, I have thought those schools (Reed et al) were very good, and wondered how one could rank them well below other schools like Carleton, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Grinnell --all schools that rank lower on the CCAP list. The disparities are less pronounced among the big universities, but Big Ten public schools like Wisconsin and Michigan State do dramatically better on the CCAP rankings than on USNWR, as does Boston College.

This is a work in progress, and down the road we will give a more elaborate discussion of both our results and a detailed discussion of the methodology used. However, we do believe it is conceptually superior to evaluate performance on the basis of consumer satisfaction or occupational success of graduates than such things as the percent of alumni contributing to the school, the quality of incoming students, or the like. Harvard, Yale and Princeton are good on any criteria ---but the Hillsdales and Wisconsins of the world may be absolutely top flight gems that are downplayed by the rather elitist and input-based criteria used by USNWR. (The senior author has been on both the Wisconsin and Hillsdale campuses, and was as impressed as he was at some Ivy League schools, consistent with the CCAP rankings).

Richard Vedder is Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University. Mr. Bennett and Villwock are, respectively, a graduate student and undergraduate student at Ohio University, and research associates of CCAP.


Ken D. said...

One suspects the issues of greatest import to students and their parents are the cost of the degree and its value in the job market.

Full disclosure in these areas should be a prerequisite for any institutions of higher education wishing to receive public support or nonprofit status.

RWW said...


I whole-heartedly agree with you.

Here in Montana, the majority of college bound students go to Montana State University (Bozeman) or University of Montana (Missoula), and to a lesser degree Carroll College (Helena). Upon graduation they leave the state because there are not a lot of places to work and the pay is terrible. So I know what makes them move on, I just wonder where they go and how they end up doing.

Over the past 15 years, our population has has stayed between 900,000 and 1,000,000 people - but never over 1,000,000. People are moving out of here as fast as they are moving here. I may soon be the former.

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