TSS Blog

Two Changes Will Impact College-Going As We Know It

Students graduating from high schools across Tennessee this month are all making the critical, life-changing decision of if and where they want to attend college. These days students have a variety of resources to help make that decision but one of the most used is the US News and World Report Best Colleges Rankings.

Historically, schools ranked at the top of the Best Colleges Rankings have the highest graduate-level research activity (i.e. Doctoral degrees). Because of this, many universities put substantial resources towards increasing their research capabilities, striving for the Research 1 (R1) Carnegie classification.

After 50 years, the Carnegie classification system is being reinvented to give additional weight to schools that increase the social and economic mobility of their graduates. The new framework will be a departure from the system’s current institutional focus, giving better transparency to student outcomes, including post-graduation job placement and salary.

The most recent American Council on Education Conference highlighted the ACE/Carnegie Foundation partnership to create the new classification category for social and economic mobility. Standout best practices presented during the conference included:

  • Program of study return on investment (ROI) analysis. Institutions are analyzing how much graduates are earning within each major/program of study and making that data publicly available (see Seek UT).
  • Embedded Industry Certifications. Innovative school systems such as the University of Texas, are embedding industry certifications into lower salaried programs of study to increase career-specific skills and post-graduation job placement.

The Carnegie Foundation also released details of their partnership with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the world’s largest private nonprofit educational testing and assessment organization. The 117 year old course credit hour (also known as a Carnegie unit) used to award financial aid and college credit could change as a result of this partnership. A new suite of standardized assessments is being created to award course credit based on skills mastered within the course, not just time spent in a classroom. According to the Carnegie Foundation,

“Where seat time has served as the primary function of learning outcomes, it is increasingly clear that the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to succeed in the 21st century economy are not singularly demonstrated through time on task—whether sitting at a desk or on a digital platform…The Carnegie Foundation and ETS are proposing that the new currency of education should be based upon meaningful skills and accomplishments demonstrated through assessment.”

Student outcomes transparency and skills-based credit will significantly impact degree program design and better inform college-going choices for future generations. A more important takeaway still, is that these changes could be a game changer for non-traditional and working traditional-aged students, giving much needed credit flexibility and the opportunity to demonstrate career-specific skills employers demand.

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