What Makes a GOOD College?

Parents of many rising seniors spend the summer shuttling them to visit colleges and universities with the hope of finding the right fit. But what makes a college attractive and worth the tuition? Is it the physical campus, the teaching staff, the coursework, or a combination of many features? Does the “brand name” of a college feature into the actual level of education?

Education Sector, a nonprofit think tank, has proposed that the methods of measuring a university education should change. Thomas Toch, the co-director of the organization, maintains that the cost associated with any particular college does not necessarily correlate with the level of instruction. “Tuition has been skyrocketing for years, with little evidence that education has improved. Universities typically favor research and publishing over teaching. And influential college rankings like the one published by US News & World Report measure mostly wealth and status . . . They reveal next to nothing about what students learn.”

One brief example for assessment is the college credit system. Colleges vary regarding the number of credits they award a course, and that can have a substantial effect on learning. For example, a student attending a college that provides 3 credits per course must take 5 courses per semester to carry 15 credits. By contrast, a college that uses 4 credit courses can take just 4 courses that same semester to receive 16 credits. And laboratory courses require even more credits and work. According to Mr. Toch, “The National Survey of Student Engagement gathers data on factors proven to correlate with learning—things like the number of books and lengthy papers assigned in courses. . . The Collegiate Learning Assessment tests students’ critical thinking and measures progress over a college career. “ However, the organizations that administer these surveys can’t make their reports public. He proposes that the government “push for systematic public information on the quality of undergraduate learning, school by schoo.” That might be a good start.

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