'Input-Adjusted' Metrics Key in Developing Fair and Accurate Ratings Systems

By Megan McClean, Policy & Federal Relations staff 

In developing college and university ratings systems, focus must be placed on criteria that evaluate institutions based on their outcomes relative to their unique student populations.

Simply grouping an institution with peers defined by traditional sector or geographic region does not give an accurate expectation of that institution’s outcomes. Ratings systems need to be able to evaluate institutions relative to the demographics of students they serve. This is what’s commonly referred to as an “input-adjusted” metric or evaluation. 

Input adjustment involves examining outcomes while controlling for key factors so that valid comparisons can be made among the outcomes of different institutions. Predicted graduation rate is an excellent example of an input-adjusted metric. A calculation could be done using student demographic­­ information—socioeconomic status or race, for instance—to determine the institution’s predicted graduation rate. 

If such a calculation were to be incorporated into President Obama’s proposed Postsecondary Institutional Ratings System, the predicted rate could serve as that school’s expected benchmark. The U.S. Department of Education could then evaluate the institution based on how close their actual graduation rate is to their predicted rate, allowing for an “apples to apples” comparison that would otherwise be impossible. As with most input-adjusted metrics, this would incentivize schools to improve rates but would not unfairly penalize them or inadvertently encourage them to stop admitting at-risk students. 

Institutions within the same sector and state or with similar missions can vary widely, in terms of the characteristics of their students and programs. Given the differences that can exist even within broad categories of institutions, colleges and universities must be evaluated based on how well they serve their own unique population of students. Only then will schools’ ratings accurately measure the outcomes they produce.

This article was originally published on 12/10/2014 in the Young Education Professionals' blog. 


Publication Date: 12/12/2014

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