College Uses Test Data To Show Value

Career College Central summary:

  • Four years ago, Kalamazoo College faced a shrinking number of Michigan high-school graduates, declining applications and an endowment getting hammered by the recession. Then the small, picturesque liberal-arts school decided on a bold step. It started publicizing test results showing what its students had learned in their four years—a surprisingly rare strategy in a higher-education industry that usually prefers to keep such things private.
  • Parents of prospective students "come here and they want to know, 'What are we getting for our money?' " said Eric Staab, Kalamazoo's dean of admissions, who credits the change with helping the school weather the recession in relatively good shape. "This gave us some data to stand on." Evaluating schools and teachers based on test scores has become a battleground in efforts to revamp K-12 education. But the nation's colleges and universities have long bristled at efforts to use similar metrics to scrutinize how well they teach students.
  • Schools have resisted the Obama administration's call for a national college-rating system that could tie federal grants and loans to student performance during and after college. Any national system would likely include metrics like graduation rates and student-loan default rates. If assessments of what students learn are included at all, they would almost certainly be voluntary, an administration official said.
  • Now, as prospective students and their cash-strapped families eye schools with greater skepticism since the recession, a handful of schools like Kalamazoo, St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Sarah Lawrence College in New York are moving to open that black box. They are betting that a whiff of fresh air will give them a competitive advantage—and woo back parents and employers whose faith in the value of a college degree has been rattled.

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