After Feedback, Department of Education Backtracks on College Ratings System

Late last year, DOE said it was getting into the college-ratings system game as a way to help students find the right fit—and best value—in higher education. With that plan now on the shelf, higher-ed associations offered some advice.

When a group of higher-education associations unveiled the framework for a system to track the long-term success of college graduates earlier this year, it did so on the heels of a major announcement by the U.S. Department of Education. DOE, at the time, said it was working on a college-ratings system to help prospective students determine the value of an education from any given institution.

That proposed system, which received mixed reviews, was officially scrapped last week by the Obama administration.

Through our research and our conversations with the field, we have found that the needs of students are very diverse and the criteria they use to choose a college vary widely.

Instead, DOE plans to release a set of tools and data—which will be open source—to help students and their families compare schools and ultimately make their own decision.

“Through our research and our conversations with the field, we have found that the needs of students are very diverse and the criteria they use to choose a college vary widely,” Jamienne Studley, deputy undersecretary and acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education, wrote in a blog post on the DOE website. “By providing a wealth of data—including many important metrics that have not been published before—students and families can make informed comparisons and choices based on the criteria most important to them.”

The decision to reverse course on the ratings system was welcomed by the higher-education community, which has since produced a final report on the Post-Collegiate Outcomes initiative.

“As the Obama administration sought comment on its proposed ratings system, [the Association of Public Land-grant Universities] recommended that the Department of Education develop a set of key transparency metrics that could be easily accessed by the public,” APLU President Peter McPherson said in a statement. “Better data is key, but the administration should think carefully about how it presents the information to ensure that it is accessible, easily understood, and quite frankly, isn’t overwhelming to external audiences and counterproductive.”

McPherson said DOE should consider four key metrics to include in the proposed transparency tool:

  • student progress and completion rates, which could be accomplished using the Student Achievement Measure tool developed by APLU and five other higher-education associations
  • median net price by family income level
  • post-collegiate outcomes, which include employment rates and enrollment in graduate school
  • loan-repayment rates

“Ensuring that prospective students and their families have key information on every post-secondary institution is critical to enabling them to select a college or university that best fit their goals and circumstances based on their own priorities,” McPherson said. “This is a much better approach than having the federal government make those judgments for them.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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