New Federal Rating System for Colleges and Universities

Lindsey Withem, Compliance Officer, Student Financial Services

In August, President Obama released a plan to develop a new rating system for colleges and universities that will allow students and their families the ability to make informed decisions based on value and outcomes. The proposed plan would eventually connect this rating system to federal financial aid. While the rating system has not been developed at this point, the proposed metrics include access, affordability, and outcomes. With the unveiling of this proposed plan, the Department of Education scheduled four open forums around the country to allow public input and discussion.

The open forum held at George Mason University on November 13 included several speakers from membership organizations, community colleges, universities, and recent college graduates throughout the Washington, DC, metro region.

Many speakers voiced enthusiasm about the potential to access more detailed information about outcomes and affordability for specific demographics of students, including part-time and transfer students. However, some were concerned that current metrics only assess data for first-time, full-time students; as a result, the majority of the student body at schools working with non-traditional students would be excluded, providing unreliable and misleading outcome data.

There was a strong concern among the speakers that the rating system, if not implemented efficiently, could have unintentional negative consequences for many schools, especially when tied to federal financial aid. Many speakers pointed out that some colleges serving at-risk and untraditional students could be penalized. For example, if ranked in the same system as schools with high percentages of traditional students, the results might be misleading and may negatively impact many schools.  

The response from the open forum was a call for more user-friendly data and a hope that a future rating system would account for the varying missions and demographics at all schools.

Other open forums on the proposed plan were held at California State University, Dominguez Hills, the University of Northern Iowa, and Louisiana State University.  

MIT is an affordable financial investment for families that has great “return on investment” outcomes, but we want to ensure that the new rating system uses the appropriate metrics without an undue reporting burden.