While college rankings are highly publicized, they don't always capture the full picture of student success—especially when it comes to adult learners, University of Maryland University College (UMUC) President Javier Miyares writes for The EvoLLLution.
College rankings are everywhere, from U.S. News & World Report's well-known list to the Education Department's College Scorecard. While rankings can provide a lot of information, Miyares points out that not all of it is relevant to an institution like UMUC.
Do U.S. News' rankings still matter?
The largest online public institution in the country, UMUC serves more than 82,000 adult students who keep busy outside the classroom.
"For adult students, the path to a degree is often a long one, as they juggle the competing responsibilities of jobs, families, and even military service," Miyares writes.
The institution's unique mission means that many popular measures of success aren't a good fit.
For example, a ranking system that considers an eight-year graduation rate to be sub-par wouldn't look favorably upon UMUC, Miyares says. As measured by the Department of Education, UMUC's six-year graduation rate is only 5%.
Make it simpler for adult learners to re-enroll
But look closer, Miyares encourages. He points out the agency's official graduation rate only accounts for full-time, first-time students over a six-year period. Most of UMUC's students don't fit that mold—Miyares says the majority of their students transfer in.
Similarly, first-year retention is another popular metric for rankings, which measure it through GPA earned in high school, standardized test scores, and the number of enrolled National Merit finalists.
"Now, without doubt, those students with high scores are more likely to succeed in college and in life," Miyares writes. "But can the institution provide the support and resources necessary for all students to succeed—including those from less privileged backgrounds or from different educational paths?"
The number of books a university's library holds—another common measure for rankings—also doesn't apply to UMUC, which lacks a physical library. But the school does have online services with 24-hour access and staff librarians on call. Even students overseas can take advantage of the virtual library.
Another common metric, the number of full-time faculty, also isn't relevant to UMUC. Miyares argues that one's tenure has little pertinence to their teaching abilities. And adjunct faculty may be more effective instructors, in that they tend to be experts in their respective fields and can provide strong advising to students.
Remove financial barriers to enrollment
Miyares says that UMUC measures itself by alternative metrics that are better suited to their mission, such as:
- Long-term graduation rates;
- Employment and salary data;
- Cost of attendance; and
- Results from student satisfaction surveys.
"We believe that a college or university should be measured by learning outcomes—what students learn and truly master, and whether they can apply it in the workplace," Miyares writes (Miyares, The EvoLLLution, 12/6).
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