Student-Centricity as a Benchmark for Success
“Elite” and “market leader” are no longer synonymous in today’s higher education marketplace. However, the ranking systems used to define the success of higher education institutions are based on outdated models that still look for prestige over performance.
The realities of today’s higher education environment don’t allow for the institution-centric approaches to management that long characterized the postsecondary space. Students are looking for a postsecondary experience that closely matches their needs and responds to their expectations. While many institutions have recognized this shift and are adapting to it, the systems we use to dictate institutional success have remained firmly stuck in the mud.
This Special Feature explores the true meaning of student-centricity and breaks down how the current design of the higher education ranking system could be doing more harm than good.
The Changing Priorities of Higher Education Institutions
Higher education rankings do not adequately represent the factors that identify student-centric institutions; they are based on an outdated ideal of institutions that must change to represent the needs of today’s students and today’s economy.
As it stands now, the existing ratings and ranking systems are too insular and removed from the demands of higher education’s true stakeholders: employers and prospective students. A new rating system needs to be devised that’s more closely tied to the needs of industry.
Determining the Factors that Stand Out to Students
A ranking system that focuses on earning potential is critical as part of the college selection process but should not be the only factor taken into account.
By understanding and measuring an institution’s capacity to deliver on eight key factors, it becomes realistic to truly define an institution’s student-centricity.
The Effectiveness of College Rankings
To bring adult students from the shadows into the light, college ratings and rankings systems must evolve to measure the availability and quality of institutional features that truly make a difference for this demographic.
Though rankings provide a glimpse into the varied and expansive world of American postsecondary institutions, it’s critical to understand the basis for the rankings and to ensure that institutions are meeting critical demands in terms of serving students as well as scoring high in the charts.
Where to Draw the Line on Rankings
While institutional rankings provide a snapshot, it’s critical that students dig deeper during their research periods to ensure the college or university they choose meets their needs and expectations.
College rankings could be improved by integrating more factors that dictate institutions’ success and responsiveness in the modern era as well as by taking into account more qualitative reviews alongside quantitative ones.
Standing Out To Today’s Students
Despite the influence ratings and rankings have on prospective students’ choices, they do a poor job of reflecting the true capacity for a student to succeed at a given college or university.
While the most popular ranking systems look at factors that speak to institutional quality, questions around outcomes are the ones that are most important to today’s students.
The Drawbacks of Standardized Ranking Systems
A rankings system that actually helps students understand whether and how an institution is suited to meet their needs would create the level of consumer consciousness the higher education industry desperately needs while also keeping institutions honest insofar as how well they serve their students.
As the higher education student demographic becomes increasingly non-traditional, the systems used to rank and compare institutions must evolve to speak to the needs, expectations and priorities of this population.
The Role of Rankings in Today
Rankings and ratings, as they currently stand, are based on limited information. Institutions that can own and explain their ratings, regardless of the score, will be in a better position than those that try to ignore them.
Higher education rankings—though influential on prospective students, external stakeholders and institutional leaders—provide only a very narrow picture of the work institutions do.
There are a number of significant problems with the popular approaches to institutional rankings, but for today’s savvy student-consumers they do not constitute the entire search process.
The Differentiating Power of Rankings
Rankings can be impactful but it will be rare that an institution cannot spin rankings in their favor.
Today’s students work hard to make sure they are applying to and attending colleges that will help them achieve their goals. They often don’t leave their enrollment decisions up to rankings.
Rankings and Non-Traditional Learners
Though rankings reward institutions for succeeding in serving traditional-age students with traditional programs, institutions need to be innovative and forward-thinking in order to secure long-term viability and differentiation in today’s competitive marketplace.
Though higher education rankings are meant to give students a sense of how successful they might be at a given institution, they’re only truly relevant for a small set of students with specific aspirations to grow in the academy.
How To Move On From Institution-Centric Rankings
By understanding the limiting nature of popular ranking systems, higher education institutions can take great strides to actually fulfilling their missions and creating access and opportunities for success for traditionally underserved demographics.
Though institutions currently sitting at the top of the rankings list have little incentive to push for rankings reinvention, this process is critical to ensuring students have access to the information they need to make informed decisions.
Defining Success in the Student-Centric Environment
As they stand today, the ranking systems provide, at best, an inaccurate view of institutional performance and at-worst serve to confuse student choice based on a limited number of highly specific factors.
By expanding the value set on which rankings are based even further, it’s possible for institutions to redefine the priorities of students to focus more on outcomes and their capacity to impact some of the major issues facing the United States and the world.
The current approach to measuring institutional performance is far from telling the whole story; the Student Achievement Measure paints a much clearer picture of the work being done by all institutions.
Without metrics that speak to the needs of the growing (and majority) population of non-traditional students, higher education rankings—especially those geared toward non-traditional areas like online education—will lack in substance.
Responding to the Needs of Today’s Students
By sharing dashboards that outline student success, institutions can play a big role in providing prospective students the contextual information they need to make informed enrollment decisions.
A system that truly measures and encapsulates the priorities of today’s students is feasible, but must go beyond a simple, quick and dirty set of rankings.
Student-Centricity in Today’s Postsecondary Space
Student-centricity is an absolute necessity for institutions today, but accomplishing this requires new ways of thinking about learners to permeate every level of the institution.
A student-centric ranking system would be tremendous in leading to a positive transformation of institutional priorities, but the nature of student behavior and demand is a core challenge to such an innovation.
The Potential Impact of Student-Centric Rankings
While the current ranking systems are, for the most part, tailored to show how institutions are serving students who are already on the pathway to success, the critical metrics should be expanded to create a more representative overview of the industry.
Creating a system more focused around learning effectiveness and educational progress would put more power into the hands of consumers to make institutional choices that more closely mapped to their specific demands and expectations.
Rankings and Relevance
Moving toward a more student-centric institutional rating system could help remove the stigma attached to career-focused postsecondary education while providing prospective students with real consumer information that could guide their education and employment options.
The four-year degree is no longer a necessity for individuals entering today’s workforce. Institutions need to do more to ensure their offerings are in demand both by students and employers.
The Value of Rankings Outside the Four-Year Environment
The effectiveness of learning outcomes, one of the linchpins of student success and a definer of student centricity, is becoming increasingly reliant on the strength of an institution’s continuing education offerings.
Two-year colleges are already laser-focused on student preparedness, experience and success but this work is not adequately captured or represented by major ranking organizations.
The Value of Rankings Outside the Four-Year Environment
College ratings and rankings, especially those that focus on affordability, are providing students with important information, but overlooking the experiences and performance of non-traditional students minimizes their validity.
In order for institutional rankings to truly provide students the information they need to make informed decisions, they must be more student-driven and provide more program-level insights.
By focusing on student success at every level of the institution, it becomes more feasible to hold institutions accountable to what their students are able to accomplish after graduation.
Beyond Rankings: Defining Institutional Success
If institutions continue to be measured and ranked on their adherence to the traditional factors that helped institutions stand out a century ago, there is minimal incentive investment in change.
The College Scorecard released by the Department of Education is a good start on the path to a student-centric institutional ranking system, but it must be further developed to truly meet the needs of today’s prospective learners.
Though common ratings systems attempt to give students a feel for how they might do at a given institution, no metric will ever be able to replace real interaction and understanding of a college or university.
Delivering on the Promise of Student-Centricity
By prioritizing the student experience and understanding and responding to the demands of today’s learners, institutions can craft a truly student-centric experience that helps them to stand out.
Leveraging technology and committing to offering high-touch services that respond to the unique needs of traditional and non-traditional students are central to creating the experience today’s learners expect and need.
A commitment to student centricity means ensuring delivering a high-quality student experience both inside and outside the classroom.