Higher education organizations submit federal rating system comments

Despite lack of overall support, some give specific suggestions

The comment period on the Obama administration's college ratings draft framework proposal closed last week, and though higher education institutions have lobbied against it since the start, some associations did offer input, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Public comments stressed a range of concerns many industry players have about the ratings, but also offered specific feedback, which Department of Education officials say they will use to craft the first version of the ratings due out this summer. Institutions may continue to submit informal feedback, however.

Accounting for student demographics

The latest comments highlight the divisiveness of the administration's plan to account for a college's student demographics when calculating its rating.

Private, public colleges divided over Obamas new ratings

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and Association of American Universities (AAU) both argued against such a process. Instead, the Department of Education should just categorize schools based on "broad groupings of student and institutional characteristics," wrote AACC President Walter Bumphus.

Meanwhile, the United Negro College Fund, an advocacy group for private historically black schools, says the ratings must include the demographic calculation, or else it will penalize institutions serving higher rates of at-risk students. Similarly, the Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU) supported the adjustment, lobbying for a "student readiness index" in the employment and graduation rates. The Postsecondary Data Collaborative backed the process as well.

Among other significant comments:

  • AAU urged the Education Department to use a salary floor to judge schools' abilities to graduate students who can support themselves, rather than using salaries levels that may put certain programs, such as liberal arts ones, at a disadvantage.
  • Several associations backed the option to rate institutions on multiple segments instead of publishing an aggregate grade.
  • Public universities voiced support to link federal funding to rates of student loan repayments, degree completion, and employment.
  • AACC says the best data on graduates' earnings comes from the Social Security Administration and that salaries should be grouped by program—not just college or university.
  • Organizations that back the ratings system stressed the need to include student debt information.

While some organizations gave specific feedback despite not supporting the ratings system overall, many only voiced their opposition. Among those were National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the American Council on Education, and the American Federation of Teachers (Stratford, Inside Higher Ed, 2/19).

The takeaway: Despite higher education organizations' and associations' opposition to a federal ratings system, many gave specific feedback on the Obama administration's draft framework.

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