• August 20, 2014

Public-University Group Offers Alternative to Obama's College-Rating Plan

Rather than rate colleges, the Obama administration should hold them accountable through expanded disclosures and tightened standards for receiving federal student aid, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities argues in a response to the president's college-affordability plan.

In a letter sent on Wednesday to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, M. Peter McPherson, the association's president, writes that public colleges support Mr. Obama's "call for transparency and accountability" but fear that a ratings system "would be extremely difficult to structure in a way that will accomplish the president’s goals."

"We are concerned the government’s best efforts will produce some misleading information," he writes, "and perhaps create perverse incentives."

Instead, the association suggests, the federal government should judge colleges based on a trio of risk-adjusted outcome measures: retention and graduation rates; employment and continuing-education rates; and loan-repayment and default rates.

Colleges in the bottom tier of performance would face a loss or reduction of eligibility for Title IV student aid, the association says, while those in the top tier would be rewarded with additional federal dollars. In addition, the government would publish colleges' student outcomes, along with their average net price by income.

The proposal builds on recommendations in the association's year-old report, "Federal Student Aid: Access and Completion." That report, which was part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project, called for the creation of a "student risk index" that would take students' demographics into account when evaluating college outcomes.

The report also proposed tying federal aid to colleges' risk-adjusted loan-repayment and default rates, and providing additional per-student aid to colleges with high adjusted retention and completion rates.

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