College Rankings: Creating an Equitable Model of Transformation and Institutional Effectiveness


  • Allison Hurst



College rankings, working-class college students, social mobility, institutional effectiveness


Colleges that serve working-class students show up poorly in traditional rankings of US colleges. Without appropriate outcome measures, measures of ‘quality’ of inputs drive most current ranking systems. The trouble is that quality is often just a measure of pre-existing privilege (e.g., selectivity, average SAT scores). In this article, I demonstrate the viability of a model that uses economic returns data while factoring in the relative lack of privilege of students attending any particular institution as a way of ranking that institution’s transformative efficacy and institutional effectiveness. The model was then tested on a diverse sample of 655 US colleges and universities for whom reliable economic returns and institutional effectiveness data are available. Unlike widely used rankings models, this proposed alternative model can distinguish between reproducing privilege (high economic returns as expected, low defaults, timely year to degree and fewer incompleters) and facilitating social mobility (higher returns and persistence than would be expected given the incoming characteristics of students). The article concludes with a discussion of the uses to which such a model could be best put.