We are in rankings season. It is a perplexing and frustrating time, not because we have done poorly, but because there is so little consistency between rankings, and there is little correlation between the rankings in mainstream media and the quality of student experience.
Rankings based upon high endowment-per-student ratios and low acceptance rates have led to an institutional cachet that is independent of what happens to students while they are enrolled. Frankly, although our institutions are quick to celebrate an ascendency in any national publication’s ratings, those rankings are not particularly useful in making a good college choice.
The White House Scorecard was an attempt to focus on outcomes. They have published median salaries of graduates 10 years after matriculation, graduation rates, and average actual cost of attendance for every higher-education institution. These are important considerations when evaluating possible college choices, and Susquehanna performs very well in these measures.
It is important to read those data with a sense of context. Some institutions focus on preparing students for critically important and intrinsically rewarding careers that are historically lower paying like school teachers and social workers. Graduation rates are one of the most important measures of success, but some institutions with lower graduation rates serve populations that are high risk, or who begin degrees close to home before completing elsewhere. One of the most meaningful U.S. News measures is the difference between predicted and actual graduation rates, because it provides a context for the data.
The measures I believe are particularly important for families to consider when selecting a college are the percentage of graduates who complete in 4 years, employment rates of graduates, and the availability of high-impact practices including: study abroad, internships, and independent research.
Outcomes matter. At Susquehanna: 99% of our graduates complete in 4 years; our alumni have the highest employment rate of any college or university in Pennsylvania, and we are 9th in the nation; 100% of our students have a study-away experience, and all our students have access to internships and independent research; and back to the White House Scorecard, our median alumni incomes are 53% higher than the national average of college graduates.