The Obama administration released a "draft framework" of its college ratings scheme on Thursday, which broadly outlines what metrics will factor into a school's ratings. However, some observers felt the framework was light on details—leaving them with more questions than answers.
As expected, the framework confirms the Education Department plans to evaluate community and four-year colleges on access, affordability, and student outcomes. According to the framework, schools will be grouped into three tiers: high performers, low performers and "in the middle."
Related: Private, public colleges divided over Obama’s new rankings
The Education Department says community colleges and four-year institutions will be rated separately. However, it has not determined whether colleges will be further divided by category. Nor has it decided if schools will receive one composite rating or separate evaluations for access, affordability, and outcomes.
The framework did provide new insight into specific metrics Education Department will use to rate schools, including:
- The proportion of students receiving Pell Grants;
- The number of first generation college students;
- Average net price of tuition;
- Graduation rates; and
- Loan repayment rates.
The ratings will also factor in "labor market success," but the Education Department has not decided exactly how that will be measured. The proposed metrics are not final and the administration is seeking public input on its framework by February 17.
The release of the framework did little to silence prior criticism. David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said "the federal government ought to provide lots of information, but not be in the position of picking winners and losers."
However, other leaders in the industry were more supportive. Terry Hartle, vice president of the American Council on Education, praised the framework as being "thoughtful" and added that its ambiguity "only serves to underscore our concern that the department lacks the data and the time needed to do this well."
Officials from the Obama administration say they hope the ratings will help the public make better choices about college. Ted Mitchell, undersecretary of education, called the ratings an "important step" in making higher education more transparent. "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," he said (Stratford, Inside Higher Ed, 12/19; Anderson, Washington Post, 12/19; Kamentz, NPR, 12/19).
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