Is Your Institution Being Accurately Compared?

"According to a new brief, major considerations must be taken into account for the Obama Administration’s proposed college rating system, the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System, or PIRS, including students’ socio-economic backgrounds, and the mission of the institution," eCampus News reports.

"A number of key elements in PIRS have yet to be defined, as policymakers continue to seek input from the higher education community. ...

The brief, 'Peers in PIRS: Challenges & Consideration for Rating Groups of Postsecondary Institutions,' commissioned by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), uses institutional case studies to illustrate some of the differences and similarities among colleges and universities.

It makes the case that any postsecondary outcomes need to be 'corrected' for various inputs, such as the characteristics and backgrounds of entering students, and provides examples that speak to the feasibility of 'mission' as a peer-group identifier.

'Having an accurate picture of student outcomes at similar institutions is a worthy goal,' said NASFAA President Justin Draeger in a statement. 'But this must be done thoughtfully lest we do more harm than good. We know that comparing institutions—even those with seemingly similar missions—is not as simple as it appears. Our research shows that student demographics and needs vary widely, even at schools with very similar missions.'

The brief outlines three key considerations for the Administration when developing PIRS:

1. Input adjustment

According to the brief ‘input adjustment’ means adjusting outcomes to reflect inputs, such as the characteristics and background of entering students. ...

2. Determine the right peer group factor for comparison

If the goal is to assess institutional performance, notes the brief, the comparison variables might be different. For example, in order to determine the value added, academic background (SAT/ACT), student financial income (percent receiving Pell), student demographics, and institutional characteristics (e.g. enrollments, Carnegie classification), might be used to calculate a predicted graduation rate for each institution, which can then be compared to actual outcomes. ...

3. Diversity can exist even within broad categories of institutions based on mission

Institutions in the same sector and state may vary widely in terms of the characteristics of their programs.

For example, the brief explains that at four-year institutions, the extent of research and proportion of graduate students differs considerably, as does the extent of public service and extension programs."

NASFAA's "Financial Aid in the News" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.