The Department of Education released a draft framework Friday for a new college ratings system, that will seek to highlight schools that, according to the announcement, “excel at enrolling students from all backgrounds, focus on maintaining affordability, and succeed at helping all students graduate.”
Under the proposed system, federal aid will be tied to the government’s ratings.
The DOE announcement appears to have less concrete details than was initially expected for the system, which has been in development for over a year. Rather than a strict ranking, as many critics feared this would become, the DOE plan notes that the government is considering sorting colleges into three broad categories — high-performing, low-performing, and schools in the middle.
“For consumers, policymakers, and the public, the Department feels that identifying extremely high- and low-performing institutions using a simple set of key measures is the most valuable action the Department can take,” according to the DOE announcement.
As Inside Higher Ed reporter Michael Stratford notes, “Over all, the department’s approach in the outline appears to be moving away from a system that lets students and families draw comparative value judgments between colleges and closer to something that resembles a set of minimum standards for institutions.”
The DOE included 11 potential metrics for evaluating colleges, which look at qualities such as affordability, first-generation student enrollment, and graduation rate. Here are all the metrics being considered:
- The percentage of students receiving federal Pell grants, which offers “a simple, clear measure of access for low-income students.”
- The expected family contribution gap is “generally considered to be a strong measure of whether a student comes from a low socio-economic status or high socio-economic status background.”
- Family income quintiles is “another possible measure of the institution’s enrollment of low- to moderate-income students.”
- The percentage of first-generation students enrolled “would reflect the extent to which institutions serve underrepresented populations in ways not measured by metrics based on EFC or family income.”
- The average net price is being considered to determine affordability and “comes closer to approximating the amount that students actually pay to attend an institution than published tuition and fees.”
- The net price by quintile “offers a more accurate measure of the actual price paid by students of various family income backgrounds than average net price but is only available for those students who are federal student aid recipients.”
- Completion rates — “College completion rates including the IPEDS Graduation Rate measure — which includes only first-time full-time degree- or certificate-seeking undergraduates — aims to capture of how well institutions support students in persisting and achieving their educational goals.”
- Transfer rates — “Since, for many students, a two-year college is a step toward completion of a bachelor’s degree, ED is exploring the viability of measuring transfer rates as a positive outcome for students.”
- Labour market success, such as short-term “substantial employment” rates and long-term median earnings — “The Department is considering looking short-term at measures that would determine if former students are making above an established threshold, such as 200 per cent of the federal poverty line, while also stressing the importance of an individual’s potential lifetime earnings. In either case, the Department is committed to establishing measures that recognise the important contributions of relatively low-paying fields, such as public service, make to society.”
- Graduate school attendance — “In addition to completion and earnings, the Department is considering including a measure of graduate school attendance rates of former students within a period, like ten years, from entry into a school’s undergraduate program.”
- Loan performance outcomes — “Relatively simple metrics like the percentage of students repaying their loans on time might be important as consumers weigh whether or not they will be able to handle their financial obligations after attending a specific school.”
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