Dept. of Education Backs Off on College Ratings System

The federal government will not compare colleges or pass judgment on their relative merits as part of the ratings system the U.S. Department of Education plans to release before the end of the summer, department officials revealed on Wednesday, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Instead, the agency now plans to produce a customizable, consumer-oriented website that students, their families and high school guidance counselors can use to learn more about how undergraduate institutions stack up, said Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell.

"We want to empower them to make comparisons based on measures that matter to them," Mitchell said.

The new tool will feature a broad range of data about college costs and outcomes, officials said, some of it publicly available for the first time. That information will be available to researchers, colleges and others, who can use it to rate colleges and compare them against one another. The department, however, will not create a scoring system for colleges at this point.

The proposed federal ratings have been contentious since the moment they were announced almost two years ago. The move toward a primarily consumer-facing tool rather than a ratings system is a major departure from the rhetoric President Obama used to initially describe the plan.

Deputy Under Secretary Jamienne Studley said that public comments and criticisms drove the agency into this new direction. Studley and other department officials spent much of the last 22 months hearing concerns at public forums, from written comments, and in meetings with a wide range of people, including many who work in higher education.

Under Secretary Mitchell stopped short of saying that the department had given up on its original goal of creating an actual rating system, but he suggested that that project was on the back burner, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. "We're going to be focusing on the consumer-focused tool for this year's project," he said.

While acknowledging that the new site represented a tacit admission of a new direction for the scorecard effort, Mitchell said he did not consider it a setback. "This is the exact opposite of a collapse," he asserted. "This is a sprint forward."


Related Links

Inside Higher Ed

The Chronicle of Higher Education