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Media Cautioned About “Grading Higher Education”


Annual media rankings of colleges don’t always provide enough information to help individual students pick the best school for them, said a panel of experts brought together Wednesday by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media. The experts were commenting on the institute’s latest report called “Beyond the Rankings: Measuring Learning in Higher Education.”

Assessment of institutions by magazines such as U.S. News & World Report may not always help parents decide which is the best undergraduate school for their children, said David Shulenburger, vice president, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.


“There is no single best undergraduate university for all students,” he said. “Individual students need different things.” Shulenburger gave the example of his own two sons — one who needed the challenging environment of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the other who needed the mentoring environment of the University of Kansas.

“When students try to find the best university for themselves, they don’t need a matrix of university facets summed into an overall score. They do need information on the individual facets of each university that they can weigh for themselves, just as two of my sons did,” said Shulenburger.

W. Robert Connor, president of the Teagle Foundation, said universities should do their own assessments that are based on numerous criteria, including student outcomes. And, institutions should tell the public how they’re assessing the outcomes of students and graduates, he added.

Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, said assessments are here to stay and suggested government put money into colleges with the best documented result.

“Assessment is a train in motion… it is the key to other important issues in higher education including U.S. competitiveness, federal role and diversity,” Ekman said. “The one-size-fits-all mentality doesn’t hold true anymore. Report cards are not the end of the story.”

College-level work is complex and should be assessed in the same way as how someone is driving a car or the quality of a legislator, said Ross Miller of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “Assessment is getting beyond the sink or swim approach. And we need to teach parents and students to make informed decisions.” He added that the public wasn’t dumb, but they needed more information to make comparisons.

The Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media is part of Teachers College, Columbia University and promotes the fair coverage of education.

— By Shilpa Banerji


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