Ed Department Plans New College Evaluation System, Wants Public Input

The U.S. Department of Education is working to develop a new ratings system for America's colleges and universities, and officials want the public to give feedback on its development.

The Department announced a series of public forums next month in California, Virginia, Iowa and Louisiana. The department plans to create a draft system by next fall that would tie some financial aid to schools based on performance using the system by 2018, writes Kimberly Hefling of The Associated Press.

The ratings system is designed to provide students with more information about schools and help rein in the rising cost of college and make institutions of higher learning more accountable on areas such as graduation rates.

The higher education community has raised several questions and concerns over the new ratings system, including whether it is the federal government's job to create such a system and whether it would be fair.

For example, if graduates' salaries are factored in, they worry that a school with lower-paid graduates in fields such as social work or with a high number of stay-at-home parents could be unfairly judged.

On a conference call, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters that it is too early to know exactly what metrics will be used to develop the system, but that it will be thoughtfully done. According to Duncan, the federal government spends $150 billion annually on grants and loans, none of which is based on outcome.

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, a former governor of Indiana, is "very skeptical" of the federal government putting together such a system, Daniels told reporters, adding that's better left to the marketplace.

Students and their families already are realizing that high tuition costs do not necessarily mean those are the best schools, and employers are questioning the value of diplomas from some institutions — the type of factors that are driving conversations about college value, Daniels said.

"There's going to be a move to accountability," Daniels said, whether it's the federal government doing it or not.

The education department will host a forum on November 6th at California State University, Dominguez Hills; on November 13th at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia; on November 15th at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls; and on November 21st at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

In California, the Little Hoover Commission, an independent, bipartisan group that analyzes and reports on government functions, called on higher education leaders and public officials not just to look at cost, but to re-imagine the college agenda to meet changing workforce demands.

The report says the current three-tier system – community colleges, California State University and the University of California – is failing to produce sufficient degree holders in a new era of finite resources.

According to the report, all three segments also lagged behind institutions such as Stanford, Harvard and MIT in adopting online technology that could reach thousands more students.

11 7, 2013
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