The Foreign Service Journal - December 2013 - page 89

The White House Weighs in on College Rankings
all is college rankings season, and in recent months the usual suspects have issued their latest reports:
U.S. News &World
“2014 Best Colleges,”
“America’s Top Colleges 2013,”
“College Rankings,”
Princeton Review’s
“Best 378 Colleges” and
Washington Monthly’s
“Different Kind of College Ranking.”
This fall, the college rankings world is also entertaining the prospect of a new player. In August President Barack Obama
directed the Department of Education to develop and publish a new college ratings system that would be available for students
and families before the 2015 college year. The aim is to help students compare the value offered by colleges and to encourage
educational institutions to improve.
In public hearings around the country, the DOE will gather input from students, parents, teachers, state leaders, college
presidents and others on how to construct the ratings. They will be based on such measures as access (e.g., percentage of
students receiving Pell grants), affordability (e.g., average tuition, scholarships and loan debt) and outcomes (e.g., graduation
and transfer rates, graduate earnings and advanced degrees of graduates).
Once the ratings are well developed, the administration plans to seek legislation making the new rating system the basis for
allocating the more than $150 billion in federal aid to higher education annually.
In addition to helping ensure that taxpayer dollars for higher education are used wisely, the initiative gives a boost to the
shift toward a focus on outcomes in college rankings.
U.S. News &World Report,
publisher of the most popular “prestige” ratings, now also does a separate ranking of the
“Best Value Schools,” in which the net cost of attendance for a student receiving the average level of need-based aid is taken
into account along with a school’s academic quality.
Following release of its “2014 Best Colleges” rankings in September,
U.S. News
methodologist Robert Morse noted that the
president’s rating plan is very different from the
U.S. News’
rankings. But, he points out, if approved, the president’s plan would
make comparative student outcomes data available from colleges for the first time, since the DOE can require schools to accu-
rately report that data.
“The bottom line,” Morse adds, “is that more information and more data are better for everyone.”
—Susan Brady Maitra, Senior Editor
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