Education Dept Releases College Rating Framework

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The federal government has announced a plan to rate colleges on access, affordability and student outcomes by the start of school next year.

Schools might be rated as high performing, low performing, or “in the middle” according to a “draft framework” released last week by the Obama administration. The document is a status report on an initiative announced by Obama in August 2013, announcing the Education Department’s intentions of assuming a new role as mediator concerning the performance of colleges and universities.

The Department of Education is looking for public comments concerning several metrics it is considering before the system will be ready to be finalized.

“Designing a new college ratings system is an important step in improving transparency, accountability, and equity in higher education,” said Ted Mitchell, under secretary of education. “The public should know how students fare at institutions receiving federal student aid, and this performance should be considered when we assess our investments and set priorities.”

According to the draft framework, schools may be judged on graduation and retention rates, the ability of graduates to pay back their student loans, as well as the school’s accessibility to low-income and first-generation students.

Most of the focus from the administration will be on the number of students who complete their degrees.  While the salaries of those who graduate will be considered, the administration said they will mainly be looking at if graduates are able to afford basic needs, according to Nick Anderson for The Washington Post.

The effort was the recipient of much criticism after it was announced by Obama last year, from those who worry that it could cause institutions of higher learning to be less likely to accept students considered to be “high risk.”

In addition, critics believe the system to be misleading to the public, who they feel should focus more on the quality of the education being offered, not just the affordability.

The plan comes a cornerstone of Obama’s policy to fix a sector of the economy he has been working on during his time in office.  Of students who are accepted into four-year schools, only six out of every ten will graduated within six years.  Average student debt for almost 75% of students has increased to $30,000.

While the rating system does not need to be approved by Congress, it would need to pass legislation in order to be allowed to dole out federal financial aid.  However, according to the department’s under secretary Ted Mitchell, Obama is not likely to ask for that in his final two years in office, writes Kimberly Hefling for The Huffington Post.

He went on to say that the ratings system will provide the “credible, clear, easy to understand information” that students are looking for.  The system is on track to be released for the 2015-16 school year.

“I think people have been worried primarily because they don’t know what it is we actually intend to do,” Mitchell said. “I’m hopeful that now that we have a document out we’ll be able to have a very constructive, positive conversation about how we do this in the right way.”