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New Brief Advises Policymakers on College Rankings

October 30, 2009

The Institute for Higher Education Policy's (IHEP) new issue brief, The Role and Relevance of Rankings in Higher Education Policymaking, provides an overview of national postsecondary assessment efforts and notes the similarities and differences these approaches have taken in comparison to college rankings.

Developing postsecondary education policy based on ambiguous information, notes the brief, can lead to undesired and unsuccessful results. IHEP makes several recommendations to ensure that policymakers are aware of these potential hazards and to increase the policy relevance of rankings:

  • Take precautions to ensure that college rankings are used only as part of overall system assessment efforts and not as a standalone evaluation of colleges.
  • Support the collection of data that can be used to craft more policy-relevant college rankings, such as providing funds to higher education institutions to widely implement and publish the results of student learning assessments.
  • Leverage public attention to college rankings to shape general notions of college quality and advance equity goals.

"Discussions of college rankings often fail to see the influence these popular schemes may hold in the policymaking process," says IHEP President Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D. "It is our hope that policymakers and other stakeholders will recognize the policy ramifications of turning to college rankings as a conclusive assessment of institutional and educational quality, thereby producing missed opportunities to develop policy that yields institutional success and achieves greater equity."