Colleges to Grade Themselves on Performance

United States colleges and universities may soon be forced to publish an annual self-evaluative “report card” if Congress passes a proposal developed by the Career College Association, a Washington-based lobbying organization, as an addition to the Higher Education Act. The proposal would apply to public and vocational schools as well as private colleges and universities like Boston University. It would demand the schools assess themselves on attrition percentages, graduation rates and post-graduate employment success, CCA officials said. “Our proposal applies to all post-secondary institutions and basically is an augmentation to the No Child Left Behind Act, which forces elementary and secondary schools to grade themselves,” said Tammy Zimmer, regulatory analyst for the CCA. “It holds the schools to some kind of accountability to the parents and students.” The proposal would help vocational schools the most, she said, though it would help other schools, too. Schools’ report cards would allow both types of schools to share the concrete results of their programs, Zimmer said. “For vocational schools, it would be to their advantage to show how many students go on to get jobs following graduation,” Zimmer said. “For a four-year liberal arts college, the interpretation would be different. For example, a school like Boston University with a pre-law track would want to show how many graduates are accepted into law schools.” Much of the information required in each school’s report card is already available to the public, but Zimmer said the CCA’s goal is to create an easily accessible way for parents and students to access the information during college searches. “After high school, the student essentially becomes a consumer,” she said. “They are paying for an education and we are lobbying to provide them with a sort of consumer guide that would help them in deciding where their money will be most well-spent.” Each institution’s report card would be renewed every year, though some of its components would include information compiled over a four- to six-year period, Zimmer said. If a school’s numbers were extremely poor one year, higher numbers from previous years would be reflected in the report, she said. “This way, the interpretation isn’t too narrow,” Zimmer said. “If a school has a really good year because their basketball team is in the Final Four and everyone suddenly wants to go there, or if it has a bad year for some other reason, it will be compensated for when averaged with numbers from the preceding years.” But though the CCA is strongly promoting the idea, college and university lobbying groups have had a less enthusiastic response. This way, the interpretation isn’t too narrow,” Zimmer said. “If a school has a really good year because their basketball team is in the Final Four and everyone suddenly wants to go there, or if it has a bad year for some other reason, it will be compensated for when averaged with numbers from the preceding years.” But though the CCA is strongly promoting the idea, college and university lobbying groups have had a less enthusiastic response. Tony Pals, director of Public Information for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, which represents private, non-profit institutions, said he believes the proposal would not be beneficial for either universities or their prospective students. Pals said the report card would not only be repetitive, reprinting information already readily available, but it would be costly. “Forcing institutions to provide additional reports would add an additional cost, Pals said. “This would be transferred to the students, in some part.” And Pals said no matter how general an outline the report card could convey, it might not give prospective students a full idea of the education and opportunities they could receive at individual universities. He called the proposal “too vague.” “Students need to know more information when making their college decisions,” Pals said. “Schools and universities are too different from one another and having a general report applied to all institutions would not account for these differences.” BU spokesperson Colin Riley agreed, saying he does not see the need for an institutional report card. “If students and parents want information, they are encouraged to ask questions themselves,” he said. “BU is more than happy to provide that information.”