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Associations Comment on College Ratings System

February 19, 2015

In comments to the Department of Education on President Obama's Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS), 26 higher education associations—including NACUBO—support goals to provide better consumer information and increased accountability, but express skepticism about the feasibility of the approach and warn of the danger of unintended consequences.

The letter from the American Council on Education (ACE) on behalf of the associations articulated concern about the lack of details in the framework stating, "the document released on December 19th is so incomplete, tentative, and amorphous, that it is impossible to offer the type of critique that this undertaking would otherwise require."

Noting that ED already offers four consumer information tools—College Navigator, the College Scorecard, the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, and the College Affordability and Transparency Center—the higher education associations questioned how additional information would add value. In addition, the letter raised concerns about PIRS' ability to accurately rate institutions in terms of access, affordability, and outcomes. Specifically, ACE noted:

  • An institution's mission should be considered when establishing a rating.
  • Access, affordability, and outcome measures should have individual ratings, rather than be combined into a single rating for each institution with weights assigned to the components.
  • Institutions should have the opportunity to review draft ratings before they are released publicly, similar to the process used in published cohort default rates and college cost watch lists.
  • Only one metric used in assessing the outcome measures (percentage of Pell grant recipients enrolled) is highly accurate. The other metrics are inaccurate, incomplete or untested, the letter states.

ACE urges ED to provide more details about the system before publishing any ratings and suggests a better use of resources would be to "abandon this plan and instead focus on other ways to achieve the central purposes of PIRS—better consumer information and stronger accountability." ACE offered to work with ED to achieve those goals.


Bryan Dickson
Senior Policy Analyst