Report: Push Needed To Implement Performance Standards For Under-Performing Colleges

By Laylaa Randera, Communications Intern 

In a period when obtaining a quality higher education is an economic imperative for many, academic institutions should be subject to performance standards to create a minimum quality benchmark in the industry. It has been found certain colleges do a far better job than others, which impacts students considerably, according to a new report released by The Education Trust. 

According to the report, college-going rates are increasing across the demographic board for all income-levels, races, and geographic areas. While this shows that many realize the importance of a higher education as a means to one’s financial and career goals, college graduation rates in the U.S. are in the lowest among the developed world.

It has been argued these troubling trends fall on the onus of the student, often times due to under-preparation for college. On the contrary, the report states that, “some colleges consistently do a much better job than other institutions serving the same kinds of students.” However, those colleges with markedly worse outcomes continue to receive federal dollars, the report said. The federal government provides approximately $180 billion in student financial aid and tax benefits a year, without taking into consideration an institution’s performance with regard to access, completion, and post-enrollment success for low-income students. 

According to the reports author’s, a combined effort will have to be made to bring the college performance benchmark up across the board. “If we are to return to being a global leader in the education levels of our workforce, no involved party—high schools, government, or institutions themselves—can afford to sit idly by and watch while we fail to maximize our investment in the nation’s future,” states the report. 

Some promising steps to raising the bar are already underway, the report’s authors explain, for example, “33 states have adopted college completion goals, and 27 have implemented or are in the process of implementing state funding systems that reward institutions for their performance with students.”

The authors argue that the federal government ought to play a more active role, before doling out check after check for higher education, by establishing minimum performance standards for four-year colleges “that align with its core purposes for investing in financial aid and giving institutions several years to meet those standards.” The aim should spur institutions to progress, not to diminish or close them, the report said.

The three minimum performance standards proposed by the authors are:

  • A bottom 5 percent standard for fair access: highly selective, low-Pell institutions can enroll more low-income students without compromising admission standards;
  • A bottom 5 percent standard for education success: institutions with similar demographics can have very different outcome student demographics are not to blame; and
  • A bottom 5 percent standard indicating preparation for post-enrollment success: institutions can protect students’ debt investment by helping them graduate with meaningful degrees.

“Demographics are not destiny,” state the authors. Although student demographics are a telling factor in college success rates, the report finds that, “the bottom 5 percent of colleges have six-year completion rates of 15 percent or lower. Over half of these college dropout factories are for-profit institutions; one-third are nonprofit privates; and one-tenth are publics. One-fifth are nonprofit minority-serving institutions; four-fifths are not.”

When considering tying financial aid funding to performance and outcomes, it is important to have valid institutional comparison groups within which comparable outcomes can be assessed. NASFAA’s Peers In PIRS: Challenges & Considerations For Rating Groups Of Postsecondary Institutions report, released in March 2014, provides an overview of selected research and focuses on the challenges associated with grouping and comparing peer institutions under the Obama Administration’s Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS). Under PIRS, institutional outcomes would ultimately be linked to student financial aid, so students at colleges with higher ratings could be eligible for larger Pell Grants or more favorable rates on student loans, for example. NASFAA’s brief suggests that if the federal government is going to create a system of rating colleges, having3 valid institutional comparison groups will be essential.


Publication Date: 7/23/2014

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