Washington Update

Controversy Surrounds Proposed Higher Education Ratings System

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As part of a wide-ranging plan to curb rising college tuition and make college affordable to more Americans, this summer the Obama administration laid out a series of steps it wants to take, including a controversial proposal to develop a ratings system that would assess the “value” of each college. According to a fact sheet released by the White House in August, the ratings would be based on three broad categories: affordability, accessibility to low-income students and student outcomes.

The Obama administration wants to publish the ratings by the 2015 academic year and eventually convince Congress to tie student financial aid to each college’s rating results. Many higher education professionals, however, say that “value” is a subjective term that defies a metric categorization.

Advocates for community colleges are particularly skeptical of the utility of a ratings system, even for informational purposes. They have noted that most community college students picked a school based on its geographic location, not on published metrics.

It has been reported that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has acknowledged that a ratings plan has “potential pitfalls” but emphasized that the ratings system will compare only similar institutions and take differences in student populations into account. He has called criticism of a rating system that does not yet exist premature.

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