College Ratings and Paying for Performance

College Ratings and Paying for Performance

The President's Plan will:

  • Tie financial aid to college performance, starting with publishing new college ratings before the 2015 school year.
  • Challenge states to fund public colleges based on performance.
  • Hold students and colleges receiving student aid responsible for making progress toward a degree.

College Ratings FAQs

How does the US Department of Education define college value and performance?

  • The American higher education system has some of the finest institutions in the world and the diversity of institutional missions is key to its strength. While there will never be a way for a rating to capture the full spectrum of an institution's contributions to an individual or society, the Department will develop a ratings system that will identify colleges that provide good value aligned with three key principles that President Obama articulated: access, affordability, and outcomes.
  • Input from the public is vital as the Department works to turn these principles into a meaningful ratings system.

What metrics will you use to rate colleges?

  • The new ratings system has not been developed yet and we will work with all stakeholders— including students and families, states, colleges and universities, and higher education experts– to identify those metrics that will help consumers compare colleges based on their affordability and value, such as:
    • Access, such as percentage of students receiving Pell grants
    • Affordability, such as net price and loan debt
    • Outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, earnings of graduates, and completion of advanced degrees

If you measure colleges based on student earnings, won't you encourage colleges to shut down their early education programs and over-invest in engineering and business programs?

  • Clearly graduate earnings are not the only measure of college performance, and they shouldn't be. But one purpose of college is to help students get a better, more secure career – and students deserve this information when choosing colleges.
  • For most families, choosing a college is one of the most important economic decisions they will make in their lifetime. Families should not have to struggle to figure out which colleges offer good value and which ones do not.
  • We are also planning to work with the higher education community to improve these measures, and we will explore other ways to measure student learning across the diversity of fields, professions, and industries for which our higher education system prepares its students.

Your measurements will hurt colleges who specialize in serving disadvantaged students, like HBCUs. And colleges will respond by excluding disadvantaged students. Are you sacrificing low-income students for middle-income students who are more likely to succeed on your measures?

  • It bears repeating: we need all students seeking higher education to access and graduate from college at higher rates in order for our economy and society to reap the benefits of postsecondary education.
  • Colleges that prioritize enrolling and graduating disadvantaged students have a special place in our country. That's why our performance ratings will include factors recognizing colleges for helping disadvantaged students succeed, such as for helping more Pell-eligible students enroll and graduate.
  • The Department will engage with the public in designing this system in a way that works for everyone and is reflective of the needs of the community. We will continue to reach out to get feedback and input from We are interested in ideas and suggestions from all stakeholders: students and families, college faculty and administrators, state education leaders, business and industry, researchers, associations, innovators, philanthropies, consumer interest groups, and other public advocates.

What steps will the Department take to develop and implement these new ratings? How long will it take?

  • The President has directed Secretary Duncan to take the lead in developing these new college ratings. The ratings will be available for students who are choosing colleges in the 2015 school year.
  • In developing these ratings, Secretary Duncan will draw on the expertise of the Institute of Education Sciences. IES is the primary federal agency responsible for education statistics, and by law its activities are free of partisan political influence.
  • Secretary Duncan is committed to developing these ratings with broad public input including outreach to students and parents, states, colleges, researchers and measurement experts. The steps he will take include:
    • A series of open forums located around the country.
    • Publishing a Request for Information, a formal notice in the Federal Register that provides the public an opportunity to submit information and propose policies.
    • Consultations with students and families, college leaders, state and local leaders, Congress, statistical experts, and anyone else with a good idea.
  • Please look for our public hearings, forums, and roundtables, and share written feedback with us at or email us at
  • The ratings will be published annually to guide college choices and incorporated into the Department's College Scorecard.
  • In the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the President will seek legislation allocating financial aid based upon these college ratings by 2018, once the ratings systems is well established. For example, student could maximize their Federal student aid by attending colleges that provide good value.

Will Congress work with you on this?

  • During the discussions about student loan interest rates, we found widespread eagerness to engage in discussions concerning college costs and intense interest in helping to address how we can help students afford a good education without incurring unaffordable debt.
  • While keeping student loan interest rates affordable is important, we need to acknowledge that our work needs to start sooner –postsecondary education must be more affordable.
  • Many similar ideas have earned bipartisan support, and we are optimistic we can find common ground on an issue that is increasingly on the minds of so many American families.