Policy | News

ED Looks for Comments on Rating System for Higher Ed

The United States Department of Education is seeking comment on its efforts to create a rating system for colleges and universities.

The plan, at present, consists of three general principles, with a heavy emphasis on measuring the performance of colleges and universities against yet-to-be-determined criteria and basing the distribution of federal dollars on how universities and colleges measure up to those criteria. The centerpiece of the concept is a rating system for colleges and universities to which students could refer before choosing an institution.

The three broad principles, as outlined by ED, include:

  1. Evaluations of the performance of colleges and universities, under which financial aid would be tied to some measure of performance in the context of "student investment," with the implication that such "performance" will be aligned in some way with the payout the student receives in his or her career earnings following college. The Obama administration referred to this as "paying for performance."
  2. The second principle also ties in with institutional performance. As Education Secretary Arne Duncan explained in August, the principle is to promote "innovation and competition by shining a spotlight on college performance, highlighting colleges where innovations are enabling students to achieve good results, and offering colleges regulatory flexibility to innovate."
  3. The last is "ensuring that student debt remains affordable" by allowing students to repay loans as they earn income, with a fixed cap on payments as a percentage of income.

This week, ED launched a new outreach program initially targeted toward students, but also toward college and university faculty and staff, to get their input on the rating system and and on coming to a definition of payout in the context of education.

According to a blog post on ed.gov from yesterday: "To better understand college affordability and value, inform the development of the college ratings system and gather input from the wide range of stakeholders, today the Department is launching a nationwide series of public discussions by convening student advocates and leaders — since students will benefit the most from these efforts — at the Department's headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Department wants to hear feedback from students and parents, state officials, college presidents from a variety of institutions, higher education faculty and administrators, businesses and industry leaders, researchers, data experts, higher education associations, innovators, philanthropies, policy leaders and others to hear their thoughts on how best to promote college affordability and value while ensuring access and success for disadvantaged students is encouraged, not discouraged."

According to ED, input will be collected and used to help shape the ratings system. Input will be gathered in the coming months through public forums around the country, including town halls and roundtables.

"Over the coming months, the Department looks forward to hearing what measures should be included, how to best assess college affordability and value, and how to provide the information in the most user-friendly and helpful way for students and families," according to ED.

The administration is looking to publish its ratings prior to the 2015 school year and will work to "refine these measures in collaboration with the higher education community, students and families, and the public" over the subsequent years.

Public comment can also be submit via e-mail to collegefeedback@ed.gov. Additional details will be posted on ED's College Affordability and Completion portal.

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