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Higher Education Groups Respond to Obama Administration's College Ratings Plan

February 03, 2014

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​ACE and a group of 24 higher education associations submitted comments to the Department of Education (ED) Friday on the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System President Obama proposed last August as part of his plan to make college more affordable.

The system would rate colleges and universities based on as-yet undefined measures of “value” and “affordability.” Eventually, these ratings would be tied in some fashion to institutional eligibility for federal student aid programs.

The initial ratings are scheduled to be published by fall 2015. The link between the ratings and federal student aid is proposed to be in place by 2018, but such a step would require congressional approval.

After months of discussions with member institutions, leading higher education researchers and policy analysts, the associations report that “many question whether rating colleges is an appropriate role for the federal government to play, and most believe it is nearly impossible for the federal government to do such a thing with any degree of reliability or validity.”

“One central concern is that any federal rating system which evaluates colleges and universities based on a few quantifiable indicators will, in essence, treat all higher education institutions as if they were doing the same thing and educating identical student populations,” the groups wrote. “Many college and university leaders are skeptical that a single indicator can fairly sum up any institution without further narrative information and interpretation.”

Among the more specific concerns outlined in the comments, the groups question the accuracy of the data that the federal government has available to build a rating system, noting that several of the data points likely to be included—such as retention and graduation rates, default rates and earnings data—are flawed.

For example, in FY 2011, one California community college with 12,500 students had a default rate of 33.3 percent, according to ED. However, this college only had three borrowers, one of whom defaulted.

Click here​ to read the comments in full. ​

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