This factsheet about the college ratings framework will give you a good idea of what's going on. It opens with some stirring words from the Dunc-meister himself.
As a nation, we have to make college more accessible and affordable and ensure that all students graduate with any education of real value. Our students deserve to know, before they enroll, that the schools they’ve chosen will deliver this value. With the guidance of thousands of wise voices, we can develop a useful ratings system that will help more Americans realize the dream of a degree that unleashes their potential and opens doors to a better life.
Every time this administration talks about making college more affordable, I'm forced to remember the reports that the Department of Education is making huge profits from college loans. If the feds could show even half the interest rate love to students that they show to banksters, the "more affordable" part of Dunckie's dream would get somewhat closer. But this is a pretty standard pattern for this business-friendly administration-- we want to get SATs and AP tests and college and health care to every Ameican, as long as we don't have to ask corporations to give up any of their profit margin to do it.
Since the administration's premise is that education is the only thing that will help fix financial and social inequity (again, anything that would bite into corporate profits is off the table), they've got to somehow camouflage the evidence that our current post-secondary system reinforces the Walls Between the Classes rather than breaking them down.
The factsheet lists some of the administration's "achievements," including increasing Pell grants and Opportunity Tax Credits. They're also proud of capping student loan payments at 10% of monthly income, guaranteeing that students will be able to keep paying those loans off until they are eligible for Social Security (whether they'll get any or not is another discussion).
But the administration also wants to put pressure on colleges, because if there's notenough social mobility in America, the only possible explanation is that some colleges suck. So we'd like to rate colleges on many qualities, including but not limited to, enrolling students from many backgrounds, focusing on affordability, and good graduation rate. Here's what the feds think they know so far about rating access, affordability, and outcomes.
Rating categories. Lots of folks have told the Dunc-inator that rankings and false precision would be a bad idea, so the department is leaning toward three ratings: high-performing, low-performing, and those in the middle. This is a bit of a weasel because the choice on what to call those in the middle will be telling. "Adequate," "well-performing," and "meh" would all fit the descriptor, but provide much different impressions to consumers.
Institutional grouping. A system that allows consumers to compare Harvard Law School and Bob's Truck Driving Academy isn't particularly useful to anybody. The department agrees that taking the goals and type of institutions into account would help ratings make more sense.
Data. They'll start out using data from federal systems, IPEDS and NSLDS. They will keep it just as safe and secure as... well, let's not think about that.
Metrics being considered? What percentage of students are Pelling? Expected family contribution. Family income quintiles. First-generation college students. These would be a measure of how diverse the school population is. Average net price and net price by quintile would look at affordability. Completion rates and transfer rates would speak to successful completion, and labor market success would be another outcome measure. The department is thinking about measuring labor market success not just in job placement, but in income above a certain threshold. Grad school attendance would fit in the outcomes. And for fun, let's throw in how graduates do at repaying their loans.
Yes, let me back up, in case you missed it-- maybe we should evaluate colleges on how much money their graduates make.
It's an interesting assortment, since many of these are beyond the control of the college in question. But some of these would be good things to know, even as many of them will just demonstrate that rich people who go to rich people colleges grow up to be rich people. Boy, that was useful. Unfortunately, the department thinks there is one more step to take here.
Next Steps, College Ratings Website, and Transparency Tools
It's not clear why, having collected this data, we would need a rating system. The government currently requires food companies to list nutritional information on their packaging, but it does not assign a rating based on that data. Nutritional labeling remains one of my all-time favorite examples of government in action-- I get the information I need to make the choices that best suit me. I don't need the feds to label the food "Good" or Healthy" or "Fatty Fat Fat." I can interpret the data in the way that best suits my needs, beliefs, and inclinations.
If the feds want to give students and families more information about colleges, that would be fine. I don't need the feds to interpret the data for me, based on what they think I should want and need. But as Under Secretary Ted Mitchell notes in his closing comments, the feds also like the idea of awarding money (or not) based on their own rating system. So once again we have the administration acting like cartoon versions of what non-liberals hate about liberals-- the idea that people just shouldn't be left to make up their own minds about things because federal bureaucrats can make much wiser choices for them than they can make for themselves.
Add that on top of the bitter irony that this is the federal government that announced its intention to bring the hammer down on predatory for-profit colleges, and yet, when the biggest offender in the pack turned up, these same feds mostly protected the financial interests of the owners. In short, these guys who want to get super-involved in determining the best interests of students already have a lousy record in looking out for the best interests of students. In really short, if you're going to insist on federal overreach, at least show some aptitude for it.
The Department invites comment from the public on the draft framework by Tuesday, Feb.17, 2015. Submissions can be submitted through the online form at http://www.ed.gov/blog/collegeratings or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org