Assessing the Validity of Consumer Ratings for Higher Education: Evidence from a New Survey

33 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2017 Last revised: 29 Dec 2017

See all articles by Jonathan T. Rothwell

Jonathan T. Rothwell

Gallup; George Washington University Institute of Public Policy; Brookings Institution

Date Written: December 28, 2017


There have been many efforts to rate the quality of colleges, but one approach common to other industries has been neglected: asking consumers. This analysis assess the validity of using consumer surveys to measure the quality of colleges using new data from the Gallup-Strada Education Consumer Pulse. I develop an individual consumer rating based on responses to 14 items related to the quality of education and implement two validity tests: Do higher ratings predict higher welfare, and do they correspond to objective quality measures? I conclude that they do. Indeed, the mean ratings of at least 20 other alumni provide a better prediction of individual satisfaction than popular college rankings from media sources. Consumers rate their experiences higher after attending not-for-profit colleges that generate better economic opportunities, enroll students with higher test scores, employ well-paid faculty, and graduate a higher percentage of students who eventually earn doctorates. I conclude that survey-based consumer ratings of postsecondary institutions can provide valid and reliable quality comparisons.

Keywords: higher education, college quality, consumer welfare, consumer information, quality of services, markets

JEL Classification: I2, I23, M2, M3

Suggested Citation

Rothwell, Jonathan T., Assessing the Validity of Consumer Ratings for Higher Education: Evidence from a New Survey (December 28, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan T. Rothwell (Contact Author)

Gallup ( email )

901 F St NW
Washington, DC 20004
United States

George Washington University Institute of Public Policy ( email )

2121 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Brookings Institution ( email )

1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States

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