Monday, June 29, 2015

College Ratings Plan? What College Ratings Plan!?

(by Gena Boling, member of Federal Issues Committee)

via Huffington Post (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
If you’re anything like me, for nearly two years, you have been sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting for the College Ratings Plan shoe to drop. Announced by President Obama in August 2013, the College Ratings Plan was designed to rate colleges on value in an effort to provide students and families information on selecting a “best value” institution. Sounds great, right?

According to many financial aid administrators, higher education administrators, and the general public, the ratings system came with many flaws. Reliable data, defining “best value,” determining comparable institutions – many of the factors playing a role in the outcome of a college ratings plan are complex and problematic when drawing comparisons between institutions. Many Congressional leaders have voiced concerns the college ratings system would result in costly measures to create and maintain.

This week, Deputy Under Secretary of Education, Jamienne Studley posted a blog updating the progress of the Department of Education’s efforts to implement the Obama Administration’s proposed college ratings system, indicating a near-abandon of the previously proposed college ratings plan. In her blog post, Studley suggests ED will release new consumer tools in late summer, which will provide information to families and students as well as to institutions for use in bench-marking institutional performance.

This sounds a bit different from a college ratings plan which would essentially compare postsecondary institutions in terms of which institutions offer a best value for their education, grouping schools into three categories of value from best to least desirable, based on what many argued were arbitrary factors.

Instead, the Department of Education will seek to provide what undersecretary Ted Mitchell describes as “revolutionary” information to students and families who want to make customizable comparisons on their own. Why not just use existing consumer products such as a school’s Net Price Calculator, the College Scorecard, or College Navigator? Good question. Many tools already exist which offer students and families the ability to research a number of institutions in order to review financial factors. These, when used in combination with an understanding of educational programs, on-campus experiences, and any other factor the student finds important to them, can lead to a sound college choice. However, ED is still discussing which data to include in the new tool and is considering including graduate earnings and loan repayment rates, which would expand on data found in the College Scorecard or Navigator.

As a MASFAA member from Missouri, I can tell you we have been very interested in this topic and have taken a proactive approach to addressing college ratings on behalf of our state association members to Congressional leaders. In January 2015, shortly after the draft framework for the system was announced, Missouri members completed a detailed survey on the topic. The results of this survey helped shape multiple conversations with legislators during visits to DC and subsequent emails to legislative staff. Survey results demonstrated than an overwhelming majority of members disagreed with the proposed rating systems and feared the College Ratings Plan would fail at achieving its published goals.

We’ll continue to follow the progress of this new, “revolutionary” tool and will provide updates as we can. If you’d like more information on these developments, I encourage you to check out the following resources:

http://chronicle.com/article/Education-Department-Now-Plans/231137/

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/06/25/education-department-says-rating-system-will-be-consumer-tool-rather-comparison

http://www.nasfaa.org/Main/orig/2015/open/ED_Pulls_Back_On_Ratings_System.aspx

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