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

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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.

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