NAICU Washington Update

Department of Education Hints at Creating Two College Ratings Systems

April 08, 2015

At a recent policy briefing at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a top official at the U.S. Department of Education hinted that the Administration is considering creating two separate institutional ratings systems for colleges and universities. One system would be consumer-focused for use by students and families in helping choose a college, while the second would be for use by researchers and policymakers.

Higher education stakeholders have long criticized the creation of a single ratings framework, citing the impossibility of creating a singular structure that can be used to simultaneously guide consumer decision-making and hold institutions accountable for perceived mismanagement. The single ratings framework apprehension is in addition to the serious philosophical concerns over the federal government ranking or rating institutions based on arbitrary value metrics.

According to a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the ratings system geared towards consumers would use raw outcomes data from the criteria released by the Department last year, without federal weightings to create a value metric. (See February 12, 2015 Washington Update for more information on the proposed criteria and NAICU’s comments.) The ratings system geared towards researchers and policymakers would rely on metrics adjusted for student and institutional characteristics.

NAICU members agree that it is essential for students and families to have the best and most up-to-date information about what a college has to offer. However, the purpose of providing this information should be to help them find a “best-fit” college—not to reward or punish institutions based on factors that government officials determine are most important.

The Department has promised a final version of its rating plan in time for the 2015-16 academic year.

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