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President to President
Molly Corbett Broad's weekly email newsletter to higher education leaders.

Higher Ed Groups Submit Comments on College Ratings Plan

Feb. 3-7, 2014 ~ Vol. 15, No. 5

  • Countdown to ACE’s Annual Meeting
  • Higher Education Groups Submit Comments on President’s Plan to Rate Colleges; NCES Holds Symposium on Ratings Plan
  • House Approves In-state Military Tuition Bill
  • IN BRIEF: CBO Issues Report on Student Loans; Pell Grant Will Run Surplus for Next Two Years

Before I turn to this week’s news from Washington, just a brief note that we are now just a month away from ACE’s 96th Annual Meeting, March 8-11 in San Diego. One highlight of the meeting is always ACE Senior VP Terry Hartle’s federal relations update, and with Higher Education Act reauthorization, the Obama administration’s plans for rating colleges, and more going on in DC, there will be much to discuss. If you have not yet registered, please start making your plans today. 

Late last Friday, we submitted comments to the Department of Education (ED) on the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS) President Obama proposed last August as part of his plan to make college more affordable​

As you know, the system would rate colleges and universities based on as-yet undefined measures of “value” and “affordability.” ED will publish initial ratings by fall 2015. The administration has proposed tying the ratings in some fashion to institutional eligibility for federal student aid programs, but that would require congressional approval and would not happen until 2018, at the earliest.

We at ACE, along with our colleagues at the 24 associations who joined us on the comments, have spent much time over the past few months talking about the ratings proposal with many of you and other experts in the field. Many have questioned whether rating colleges is an appropriate role for the federal government to play, and we all believe it is nearly impossible for the government to do such a thing with any degree of reliability or validity. Another central concern is that any federal rating system that evaluates colleges and universities based on a few quantifiable indicators will, in essence, treat all institutions as if they were doing the same thing and educating identical student populations.

As a result, we told ED that we cannot support this system. However, as the administration is moving ahead, we also outlined a series of concerns we hope they will consider as they develop it. Chief among these concerns is the lack of accurate data the federal government has available to build a rating system.

We have gathered together comments from the higher education community here, along with opinion pieces published by some of you, comments submitted to ED collected by Inside Higher Ed and other material. If we have missed anything, please let me know, and we will add it to the list.

One additional note: ED’s National Center for Education Statistics held a technical symposium yesterday on the ratings plan, which featured experts from about 20 higher education institutions and organizations, including ACE’s Louis Soares​. ED will publish a summary of symposium proceedings and resources at www.ed.gov/college-affordability​.

The House of Representatives on Monday voted 390-0 to approve legislation requiring public colleges and universities nationwide to charge veterans in-state tuition rates. 

The GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 357) is aimed at veterans who reside in one state but are officially residents of another state. The measure would require all public higher education institutions to grant in-state tuition rates to veterans residing in the state of a particular institution.

The in-state tuition policy, which would be effective July 2016 under the bill, would cover just veterans, not their dependents, and would apply for the first three years after a veteran is discharged from the military. 

On the Senate side, the proposal is included in a broader measure some Republicans think may be too sweeping and expensive, according to published reports​. Therefore the bill’s time frame in that chamber is uncertain.

IN BRIEF

The Government Accountability Office last Friday released a new report on student loan interest rates. The central finding is that the difficulty in predicting how much the loans will cost at any given point in time makes it impossible to set interest rates in advance so that the government breaks even on the program. Click here​ to download the full report or a summary of findings.

Unpublished projections from a report released this week by the Congressional Budget Office show that the Pell Grant Program will run a surplus in both FY 2014 and 2015, and the $1 billion shortfall it faces in FY 2016 is far less than the $5.8 billion projected last year. This means funding for individual grants should be secure for the next two years, and overall, the program is in better shape than expected.

Molly Corbett Broad
President of ACE