Speaking at this week’s Association of Community Colleges Trustees conference in Seattle, Bob Shireman suggested that the federal government consider surveying students directly as part of its plan to provide consumers with better information about colleges. Some community colleges leaders are concerned that a rating system like the one President Obama recently announced might fail to take into consideration the varied goals of the colleges’ students. Graduation and even transfer rates, for example, may not adequately reflect the progress that students have made.
“Because of the FAFSA, the federal government has email addresses for more than half of the students in the country,” explained Shireman. “And online surveys are easy and inexpensive to administer. To produce richer data for the rating system, the Department of Education should survey students—and parents too—about their experiences with colleges.” He gave the example of an aid recipient who reports that he is no longer enrolled. In that situation, the survey could follow up by asking for the student’s reason, with choices such as:
- It wasn’t the right fit for me
- I got what I needed (a skill, a job, etc.)
- I enrolled at a different college
- I could not afford to continue
Shireman emphasized that experts should be involved in designing survey instruments and processes, but that there are plenty of useful sources that could be tapped, such as the National Survey of Student Engagement.
“President Obama has changed the discussion from whether there should be a rating system that guides consumers to how that system should be designed.” The Education Department is asking for input (or it will be once the shutdown is over) and college leaders should use the opportunity shape the system rather than later wishing they had. “The design of the rating system is open for discussion. If you agree that feedback from students and parents could be a useful component, let’s suggest it,” offered Shireman.