Education Dept. Releases Draft Framework of College Ratings System

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released a draft framework of its proposed college ratings system, detailing a list of metrics the agency is considering in its analysis. The highly anticipated draft comes after nearly a year and a half of public debate.

In August 2013, President Obama announced an ambitious plan to create a system that would evaluate colleges based on measures of access, affordability, and outcomes. His proposal also calls on Congress to tie federal student aid to college performance, such that students who enroll at high performing colleges would receive larger Pell Grants and more favorable rates on student loans.

The recently released framework identifies nearly a dozen metrics that department officials could use in the ratings system. The most straightforward set of measures looks at the rate at which colleges enroll low-income and first-generation students – and the extent to which institutions are affordable. Those metrics include the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, the expected family contribution gap, the students' family income levels, and the number of first-generation college students on campus. Additional measures consider the average net price of an institution and net price quintile.  

The more controversial elements of the framework outline metrics to measure student outcomes. According to the draft, the department would potentially rate institutions based on their completion rates, graduates’ earnings, graduate school attendance, and loan performance.

Under the administration's plan, there would be no numerical ranking. Instead, the government would issue evaluations such as "high performer," "low performer" or "in the middle." Still to be settled is what weight would be assigned to each metric, how similar institutions would be grouped, and whether the department would publish a single, composite rating, or a series of ratings.

AACRAO Executive Director Michael V. Reilly said he was pleased that the plan seemed to address concerns of schools with large populations of low-income students. But many colleges remain anxious about future details and question the ratings' usefulness for students who are locked into attending only schools close to home. A low score will "embarrass the local schools" without offering alternatives to families, he told the Los Angeles Times.

The Education Department will solicit public input on the framework over the next several months, with a comment deadline of February 17. In an interview, Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said that the agency is still on track to release the first iteration of college ratings by the start of the 2015-16 academic year.


Related Links

U.S. Department of Education's College Ratings Framework

The New York Times

Inside Higher Ed

Los Angeles Times