With frequent media reports about highly paid presidents and expensive college sports programs, observers have good reason to wonder: Are these colleges putting sufficient resources into educating students? Tools already exist for prospective college students and their families to estimate the total costs of attending a school, or how much financial aid they can expect to receive, and even some information about what they might expect to earn after graduation. But what about the education itself? Can a student find out what their tuition dollars actually buy?
To examine that question, The Century Foundation (TCF) has sought to open up the black box of college spending to see which institutions are providing their enrollees a better value. As part of this initiative, TCF has enlisted the aid of an expert on college finances, John Cheslock, an education professor and senior research associate at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Penn State. Specifically, Cheslock has examined data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education by 5,493 colleges of all types—community colleges, research universities, for-profit trade schools, small liberal arts colleges, and the rest—looking for the best indicator of a high-value program. His work (available here) explains the advantages and disadvantages of the various measures, and suggests different calculations that could be useful, depending on the question being asked.