In November, the Department of Education will hold hearings across the country as a first step in designing a new rating system for colleges and universities. The ratings are intended to compare institutions to their peers and focus on those that do the most to help low-income students.
A key element of President Obama's plan to "combat rising college costs and make college more affordable for American families," announced in August, is a ratings system to help college-bound students select schools offering the "best value." Eventually, the Department of Education could use the ratings system to tie financial aid to institutional performance.
The White House directed ED to develop the ratings system, which will be published on the College Scorecard before the 2015 academic year. Suggested elements include:
- Access, such as the percentage of students receiving Pell grants.
- Affordability, such as tuition costs, aid, and student debt.
- Outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings and advanced degrees.
While ED has the leeway to introduce such a ratings system, using it as a factor in the allocation of federal aid would take Congressional action. One of ED's first steps is likely to be adding data on earnings of recent graduates to an empty box on the College Scorecard. In time, the Obama administration envisions using the new ratings system to provide larger Pell grants and more affordable loans to students attending high-performing institutions.
ED has scheduled open forums on four college campuses in November. At each open forum, a senior administration official will introduce the themes and key questions about the college value and affordability agenda and invite members of the public to provide feedback about a college ratings system. Forum participants will be asked for input on measuring value and affordability and, in particular, the metrics and weighting of a ratings system.
The open forums will be held:
- Wednesday, November 6, 2013, at the California State University-Dominguez Hills, Los Angeles, CA.
- Wednesday, November 13, 2013, at George Mason University, Arlington, VA.
- Friday, November 15, 2013, at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA.
- Thursday, November 21, 2013, at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.
Although all forums are open to the public, anyone wishing to speak must register in advance. Written comments may also be submitted.