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The Department of Education has released an initial draft of its federal college ratings system. ED made available both a summary and a more detailed framework. The long-awaited plan is far from definitive, providing a discussion of the rationale for a federal ratings system and the possible metrics that might be used. Despite the short time frame, ED maintains that it will consider expert and public comments and then establish a ratings system in advance of the 2015-16 academic year.

The draft framework defines metrics around access, affordability, and outcomes, and notes all student data will be presented only in aggregate. The proposal relies on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, the National Student Loan Data System, and earnings information. The department is considering using the following indicators as part of the ratings system:

  • Percentage of students receiving Pell Grants
  • Expected family contribution (EFC) gap
  • Family income quintiles
  • First-generation college status
  • Average net price
  • Net price by quintile
  • Completion rates
  • Transfer rates
  • Labor market success, such as short-term "substantial employment" rates and long-term median earnings
  • Graduate school attendance
  • Loan performance outcomes

ED emphasizes that this will be a ratings system, not a ranking of schools. The framework suggests the use of three levels: high, middle and low. Initially, only degree-granting two- and four-year colleges and universities will be included. 

The draft framework includes a discussion of each potential indicator and asks the public to respond to specific questions, such as:

  • Should the ratings system be incorporated into one of the department's existing tools (e.g., the College Scorecard and College Navigator) or should the department develop a new tool specific to the ratings?
  • How should the department publicize these tools to build consumer awareness of their benefits?
  • How should the department educate consumers on the use and meaning of the ratings?

Comments are due by February 17. Responses can be submitted online or by email.


Following a 2013 speech at the University of Buffalo, President Obama charged ED with the development of the new federal ratings system, with the intention of asking Congress to link allocation of federal student aid to those ratings. NACUBO responded to the president's proposal stating in part, "We believe that by increasing the understanding by the public of colleges and universities, a clearer comprehension of tuition rates, rising costs, and/or reductions in support will emerge. Done well, making data more transparent can help the public understand the expenses that drive the cost of providing higher education—and that revenue to support those expenses is limited."

As the administration continues to develop this ratings system, NACUBO will provide further updates. Share your observations and concerns with us by email.


Liz Clark

Vice President, Policy and Research


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