Department of Education Backs Away from Plan to Rate Colleges
The U.S. Department of Education appears to have scrapped plans to create a college rating system, according to an announcement on the agency's official website.
In a blog posting Thursday, Deputy Under Secretary for Postsecondary Education Jamienne Studley said the department would be releasing a tool this summer that will "provide students with more data than ever before to compare college costs and outcomes" in order to "Help students to reach their own conclusions about a college’s value." The new system will still provide information on colleges, but refrain from assigning a ranking.
That policy differs starkly from the president's original plan, announced in August of 2013, to develop a rating system for colleges and tie federal financial aid to each institution's performance. The ratings would have been based on factors like better access for lower-income students, affordability, and outcomes such as graduation rate and graduate earnings.
However, the rankings initiative met stiff opposition from educators who accused the administration of embracing a one-size-fits-all approach.
"Applying a sledgehammer to the whole system isn’t going to work," Robert G. Templin Jr., president of Northern Virginia Community College, told the New York Times last year. "They think their vision of higher education is the only one."
While some officials initially claimed the creation of a college ratings system would be a relatively simple endeavor—Deputy Under Secretary Studley previously compared rating colleges to "rating a blender"—the department seems to have come around to Templin's position.
"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," wrote Studley on Thursday. "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."
In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell did not explicitly say the ratings plan had been cancelled, but admitted the department would "be focusing on the consumer-focused tool for this year’s project." The ratings system was originally scheduled for release before the 2015 school year.
Even though the government has pulled back from providing official college ratings, the new system will be built to assist third parties in creating their own rankings. Studley's blog post included a promise to "provide open data to researchers, institutions and the higher education community to help others benchmark institutional performance."
Last summer, Money debuted its own "Best Colleges" rankings. Those ratings used a number of metrics to determine a college's quality affordability, post-graduation outcomes, and affordability and then compose an overall ranking based on those features.