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Press Release

Cleveland Fed researcher takes a look at which colleges other colleges choose to compare themselves to

Colleges, relative to themselves, tend to list for comparison colleges that are more selective, are larger, and have better resources, according to Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland researcher Peter Hinrichs. “One interpretation of these findings is that colleges overestimate where they stand relative to others, although an alternative interpretation is that colleges have accurate views but list comparison institutions based on aspirations,” says the researcher.

As part of the US Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data collection effort, colleges are asked every academic year to list a group of institutions that they will be compared to in a Data Feedback Report, which includes information on admissions, enrollment, graduation rates, and finances. Colleges have broad discretion to list whichever comparison institutions they choose. According to Hinrichs, the most commonly listed institution is Carleton College, which is listed by 57 other institutions. Next are Kenyon College and Oberlin College, which are each listed 53 times.

“This sheds light on which institutions colleges are paying attention to and might be using as a reference group,” says Hinrichs. “This may provide insight into how colleges view themselves, which may ultimately add to our understanding of their goals and objectives.”

While public colleges generally list other public colleges and private colleges generally list other private colleges, Hinrichs notes that for-profits more evenly list all three types of institutions, and for-profit colleges apparently do not consider themselves to be isolated from other types of colleges. Rather, they look to public and private colleges as a source of comparison.

Read: Custom Comparison Groups in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System

Find other studies by Hinrichs related to higher education here.

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that along with the Board of Governors in Washington DC comprise the Federal Reserve System. Part of the US central bank, the Cleveland Fed participates in the formulation of our nation’s monetary policy, supervises banking organizations, provides payment and other services to financial institutions and to the US Treasury, and performs many activities that support Federal Reserve operations System-wide. In addition, the Bank supports the well-being of communities across the Fourth Federal Reserve District through a wide array of research, outreach, and educational activities.

The Cleveland Fed, with branches in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, serves an area that comprises Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia.

Media contact

Doug Campbell,, 513.218.1892