to solve problems, study abroad opportunities, service learning, doing research with a faculty member, and participating in learning communities (Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005). Longitudinal data from the National Study of Student Learning and cross-sectional results from the NSSE show that institutional selectivity is a weak indicator of student exposure to good practices in undergraduate education—practices such as whether faculty members clearly articulate course objectives, use relevant examples, identify key points, and provide class outlines (Kuh and Pascarella, 2004). These kinds of practices and experiences are arguably much more important to college quality than enrolled student ability alone.
In other words, selectivity and effective educational practices are largely independent, given that between 80 to 100 percent of the institution-level variance and 95 to 100 percent of the student-level variance in engagement in the effective educational practices measured by NSSE and other tools cannot be explained by an institution’s selectivity. This is consistent with the substantial body of evidence showing that the selectivity of the institution contributes minimally to learning and cognitive growth during college (Pascarella and Terenzini, 2005). As Pascarella (2001:21) concluded,
Since their measures of what constitutes “the best” in undergraduate education are based primarily on resources and reputation, and not on the within-college experiences that we know really make a difference, a more accurate, if less marketable, title for [the national magazine rankings] enterprise might be “America’s Most Advantaged Colleges.”
Other measures of educational quality are worth considering, given the increasing diversity of college students and their multiple, winding pathways to a baccalaureate degree. These could include goal attainment, course retention, transfer rates and success, success in subsequent course work, year-to-year persistence, degree or certificate completion, student and alumni satisfaction with the college experience, student personal and professional development, student involvement and citizenship, and postcollegiate outcomes, such as graduate school participation, employment, and a capacity for lifelong learning. Measures of success in subsequent coursework are especially important for students who have been historically underrepresented in specific majors and for institutions that provide remedial education. Participation in high-impact activities—such as first-year seminars, learning communities, writing-intensive courses, common intellectual experiences, service learning, diversity experiences, student-faculty research, study abroad, internships and other field placements, and senior capstone experiences—might also be useful indicators of quality, as they tend to be associated with high levels of student effort and deep learning (Kuh, 2008; Swaner and Brownell, 2009).
The two most relevant points for thinking about how to introduce explicit quality adjustment into higher education output measures may be summarized as follows: