Paper proposes ranking colleges by students' "revealed preferences"

February 19, 2013

In a new paper published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 4 researchers propose a method of ranking PSE institutions according to students' "revealed preferences" -- the institutions they choose to go to over others that have admitted them. Using survey data from a US sample of high-achieving students, the researchers determined the winners and losers of each applicant's "matriculation tournament." The researchers then used those outcomes to rank approximately 100 selective institutions. The paper proposes an alternative to the 2 most prominent measures of desirability -- admission rates (the percentage of applicants accepted) and yield (the percentage of accepted students who enrol). Although valued by college guides, those measures are subject to manipulation. For example, rejecting applicants whom an institution deems overqualified and, therefore, unlikely to enrol can make that institution look more desirable. The researchers suggest the revealed-preferences model does not reward such strategies. The paper concludes the desirability model "eliminates incentives for colleges to adopt strategic and inefficient admissions policies to improve their rankings." The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access)