Last week, the Education Department released a draft of its proposed college ratings framework. One of the interesting things that the Ed Dept said in its announcement about the framework is that it is not going to consider student learning outcomes. They say learning outcomes are central to understanding the value of an education "but vary widely across programs and institutions and are communicated in many different ways." OK, that's true, but it doesn't mean that student learning outcomes couldn't effectively be included in a college ratings framework.
How about asking colleges to report whether or not the college is measuring student learning outcomes? I'd like to see the Education Department provide some leadership communicating about student learning. It might be useful to compare the colleges who are actually keeping track of student learning outcomes to the ones that aren't. Of course, it would be important to define, at least, generally how the institution was tracking the student learning outcomes. A few simple characteristics would be good for a start. For instance, are student learning outcomes measured in all courses or just some? how often are student learning outcomes measured? what kinds of tools or systems is the college using to measure student learning outcomes? Asking the colleges these simple questions would provide a great start to understanding that which is, in the departments words, "central to understanding the value of an education."
The Ed Dept said that it planned to primarily rely on data sources to which it already had access. That makes sense if you're trying to keep things easy, but it's not likely to produce much in the way of new and possibly game changing information. If the Ed Dept really wants to expand the opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, it needs to require reports on measures of student learning sooner rather than later.