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Department of Education Considers Two College Rating Systems

The U.S. Department of Education is considering revising its controversial draft college rating system to create two systems instead of the one system initially proposed, according to a report by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The dual rating system would have two parts, tailored to different audiences, that would use different metrics of evaluation, according to the Chronicle. The first, using raw outcome data, would be directed towards a consumer audience, while the second, using data adjusted for individual institutions, would be aimed to help policymakers and researchers measure accountability.

First proposed by President Barack Obama in 2013, the college rating system intends to evaluate institutions of higher education along a number of proposed criteria, such as graduation rates, average net price, student loan debt, and post-college earnings, according to the draft report. The drafted version would classify colleges and universities as high-, middle-, or low-performing based on these and other metrics, but would not rate institutions numerically.

The Department of Education initiative has faced criticism from some education experts. University President Drew G. Faust, for her part, questioned the worth of evaluating job market success before the draft proposal was released.

Interview with President Faust

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“I think we need to argue with any notion of college that says it’s simply about putting people in jobs,” Faust said in December, before the draft system was unveiled. “Certainly that’s a significant part of what we intend with the way we educate you.… We also want a sense of creativity and adaptability that will ready people for a job that we don’t even know about yet.”

Faust was not available for comment this weekend on the possible two-part system.

Peter F. Lake '81, a professor at Stetson University College of Law who specializes in higher education law, echoed the concerns of Faust and other experts. Even with the possible revisions, Lake said he still sees the rating system as “problematic…[for] tying value to monetary outcomes and graduation rates.”

He argued that the dual system could still unfairly evaluate some institutions, such as universities with first generation students who do not complete college in four years, or others where students take time off after graduation to travel instead of immediately joining the workforce.

“That’s not going to help your score, even though that may not necessarily be a bad thing,” Lake said. “Those students may be reporting they’re getting 100 percent value for their education money, but the government will say your school is not performing as well.”

Still, Lake said Harvard and its peer institutions with high retention, graduation, and employment rates after graduation “will walk away winners” on both scales.

—Staff writer Mariel A. Klein can be reached at mariel.klein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mariel_klein.

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