Can you calculate a college's value? New rankings hope to do just that.

New rankings do not reward 'elite colleges for attracting the most-prepared students'

New rankings from the Brookings Institution purport to measure the "value added" to students' lives by two- and four-year institutions.

Researchers from the think-tank produced a report and accompanying tool aimed at helping policymakers, consumers, and administrators determine how well several thousand colleges and universities improve students' employment outcomes.

Institutions in the report are scored according to alumni's:

  • Midcareer salary, as reported by PayScale;
  • Default rates on federal student loans; and
  • "Occupational earnings power," the average salary earned in positions held by its alumni, as reported by LinkedIn and federal data.

Each institution earned one score for each category—rather than being lined up into a single ranking—because some data was unavailable for certain schools.

"We thought it would be much better to have a value-added system than one that rewards elite colleges for attracting the most-prepared students," says Jonathan Rothwell, lead author and fellow at Brooking's Metropolitan Policy Program.

Industry reaction

Leaders in the higher-education analytics field call the rankings a "step in the right direction," but also point out deficient data sources and too much stress on alumni's economic success.

"Basically, the approach here is that we assembled what we could out of imperfect spare parts, which I strongly believe is better than either no information or current ratings systems," says Rothwell. "I'm sure someone else will do this at some point and hopefully do it better, but this is a start" (Supiano, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/29; Lederman, Inside Higher Ed, 4/29).

The takeaway: New rankings from the Brookings Institute seek to measure colleges' "value added."

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