Progress Toward Designing a New System of College Ratings

This is the third in a series of posts about the Department’s new college ratings system.

Read the first blog in this series.

Read the second blog in this series.

female indian university student using laptop

In today’s world, college should not be a luxury that only some Americans can afford to enjoy; it is an economic, civic and personal necessity for all Americans. Expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, is vital to building a strong economy with a thriving middle class and critical to ensuring a strong democracy. That is why President Obama believes the United States must lead the world in college attainment, as our country did a generation ago.

Since the President took office, the Administration has increased Pell Grants by more than $1,000 a year, created the new American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, capped student loan payments to 10 percent of monthly income, and laid out an ambitious agenda to keep college affordable. We have focused on improving college performance, promoting innovation and competition that can lead to breakthroughs on cost and quality, and helping students and families manage their student loan debt after college.

The development of a college ratings system is an important part of the President’s plan to expand college opportunity by recognizing institutions that excel at enrolling students from all backgrounds; focus on maintaining affordability; and succeed at helping all students graduate with a degree or certificate of value. Our aim is to better understand the extent to which colleges and universities are meeting these goals. As part of this process, we hope to use federal administrative data to develop higher quality and nationally comparable measures of graduation rates and employment outcomes that improve on what is currently available.

Over the past year, we’ve had many conversations with a wide range of stakeholders including colleges and universities, students and parents, researchers, statisticians, economists, and advocates. Together, we considered tough questions that needed to be thoughtfully addressed in designing a meaningful system of ratings that meets the aims of: (1) helping colleges and universities measure, benchmark, and improve in fulfilling the principles of access, affordability, and outcomes; (2) helping students and families make informed choices when searching for and selecting a college; and (3) developing a framework that could eventually align the incentives and accountability provisions in the federal student aid program with these key principles.

The Department has now published a framework and questions for public review and comment at www.ed.gov/collegeratings. We’ve also posted a fact sheet that summarizes the basic rating categories, institutional groupings, data, metrics, and tools we are currently weighing in designing the system. This is our next step in designing the college ratings system, and the framework lays out the options and questions we are actively considering.

Our thinking has been informed by insights from stakeholders and experts about how best to use transparency and accountability to achieve our goals using available and attainable data. With this release, we have tried to be clear about pros and cons of alternatives; to explain what data are available and what analyses are underway to inform development of the ratings; and to invite comment on specific issues. Throughout our conversations, we’ve been urged by the field to move forward carefully and to share the evolving approach to the ratings methodology widely. We are therefore seeking public feedback on our proposed approach and potential metrics before analyzing actual data and generating specific institutional ratings.

At the same time, we deeply appreciate that a simple quantitative system will not capture all the benefits and outcomes of postsecondary education. Wide discussion of the college ratings proposal has already helped deepen the national conversation about our shared commitment to college opportunity and other significant measures of postsecondary education success – both tangible, like obtaining a diploma or job, and intangible, like increasing knowledge and skills, civic engagement, workforce resilience, and confidence.

An important part of the continued national conversation must focus on those broad benefits and contributions of higher education in the United States.

We welcome input from students, institutions and the public about the types of tools and formats that could be part of the system that the Department plans to release by the 2015-2016 school year. Submissions can be provided through this online form or by email to collegefeedback@ed.gov.

A college degree has never mattered more to the success of individual Americans, to our democracy, and to the prosperity of our nation and our economy. But we all – students and families, institutions and researchers, policymakers and elected officials, taxpayers, philanthropies, and states – need new ways to compare the accessibility, affordability, and outcomes of different schools to make good investments and wise decisions for the future.

With this latest release, we feel confident that we are closing in on that goal.

Jamienne Studley is Deputy Under Secretary of Education.

AANAPISIs: Serving a Critical AAPI Student Population

Recently I had the distinct privilege to join Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he met with Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander education stakeholders to discuss a number of education issues affecting the community.  They presented a range of issues, such as the importance of data disaggregation, addressing bullying/harassment, and serving native populations, as well as the significance of Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) in educating low-income, first generation college students, and helping to achieve President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

Attendees requested a clear statement that AANAPISIs are indeed within the same class of institutions as Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions under the Higher Education Act. Community members relayed that because of this lack of clarity, higher education institutions, advocates, and even federal agencies were uncertain whether AANAPISIs could qualify or apply for federal grant opportunities across the federal government.

In response to these concerns, the Department has updated its website.  To the extent federal agencies utilize this statutory authority to target grants and programmatic opportunities, we recommend and encourage listing “Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs)” along with the other classes of schools delineated under the HEA.  In addition, the website clarifies that the specific definition of “Minority Institutions” (MIs) applies only to the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP) and other programs that reference the same MI definition, which includes Pacific Islanders but not Asian Americans.

AANAPISIs, and other postsecondary institutions enrolling populations with significant percentages of undergraduate minority students, play a critical role in our higher education efforts.  AANAPISIs serve almost 40 percent of the nation’s AAPI student population, and are predominantly community colleges.  Take a look at this video and share it with schools, advocates, and students to better understand what AANAPISIs are:

We hope this clarification encourages higher education institutions that meet this designation to research and apply for opportunities across the federal government to support their student body and the communities in which they reside.  And we are hopeful that agencies and departments will utilize this information when making federal grants and opportunities available to underserved populations.

Jamienne Studley is Deputy Under Secretary of Education at the U.S. Department of Education.