Federal College Ratings Program Gets Scrapped in Favor of Raw Data

Posted By Eliana Osborn on July 24, 2015 at 9:37 am
Federal College Ratings Program Gets Scrapped in Favor of Raw Data

Back in 2013, President Obama suggested rating colleges based on their value to students. With increasing costs, the administration argued, students needed to be able to make smart choices about where they enroll and what they study—understanding what they would get in return for their tuition and time.

This push for greater transparency was met with great criticism.  Issues included how a system would be paid for, the extent to which colleges would be burdened with reporting requirements, and how schools might game the system by turning away at-risk students. By the end of 2014, a ratings plan came together, but it still didn’t provide specifics for precisely how those ratings would be achieved.

Now, the Department of Education has retreated from the idea of a ratings system at all.  Instead, all the data will be available for students to research, but it won’t be weighed, measured or summarized in any way. Essentially, students can decide what they care about and search those parameters only.  There will be no overall rankings of institutions, by any measures.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, “many college leaders and higher-education associations have questioned the department’s capacity to devise an accurate or fair system.”

One can see how colleges and universities might prefer this new plan – there will be no list of what institutions are at the top or bottom based on graduation rates, student loan defaults, or other factors.  Dedicated students can find these things out about individual colleges, but it may be difficult to know what to look for – or what the numbers mean.

What specific data will be collected and available is still under discussion, including all the possibilities listed in the December 2014 announcement. Private companies will be also be able to use the data to create their own products or apps for consumer use.

Whatever form the information takes, it is slated to be available before the start of the 2015-16 school year.  However, comparing colleges may continue to be difficult without a clear ratings metric, as promises of a ratings system with “teeth,” as President Obama suggested initially, seem to have fallen by the wayside.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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