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

20 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2017  

Jonathan T. Rothwell

Gallup; George Washington University Institute of Public Policy

Date Written: June 7, 2017


There have been many efforts to rate the quality of higher education institutions using a range of mostly administrative data, but one approach common to other industries has been neglected: asking consumers directly. This analysis assesses the validity of such an approach using survey data collected from June 2016 until April 2017 from the newly developed Gallup-Strada Education Network Education Consumer Pulse. The final database consists of a representative sample of 39,000 working-age college degree holders living in the United States who attended roughly 3,500 different institutions. I develop an individual consumer ratings index based on responses to 14 items related to the quality of the educational experience and implement two validity tests: Do higher ratings predict higher income and well-being? And do higher ratings correspond to objective quality measures from administrative sources? The answers to both questions are yes, and the findings are robust to replacing the individual rating with ratings from fellow alumni and other checks. Consumers rate their experiences higher after attending colleges that generate better economic opportunities, enroll students with higher test scores, employ well-paid faculty with higher ratings from a popular website and graduate a higher percentage of students who earn doctorates. I conclude that survey-based consumer ratings can provide valid and reliable quality comparisons across postsecondary institutions.

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 (June 7, 2017). Available at SSRN:

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

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