As we have reported a few times, the U.S. Department of Education (Department) is currently working on college rating system. Libby Nelson, formerly of Politico and now the education reporter with Vox, has a great new piece up on the Obama Administration’s attempt at adding college ratings to the College Scorecard. It provides a nice summary of where things for those new to the issue. As she explains, the formula for the ratings is expected to be released later this Fall and “will probably be based at least in part on graduation rates, debt levels, and some information on graduates’ earnings.” [Note - the current College Scorecard reports data on Average Net Price, Graduation Rate, Loan Default Rate, Median Borrowing and self-reported employment statistics.] She also discusses a number of the problems with the proposal, not the least of which is the likelihood – given the experience with the lists of colleges with the highest tuition and largest tuition increases – that students won’t consider the information.
While I am generally in the “more information is better” camp, I think there is good reason to think that this doesn’t add much to what is out there. The Department can only focus on objective data in determining quality and, while those factors should be in the mix (and are considered in many other ratings formats), choosing a college is a fairly subjective process. The best graduation rates in the world won’t mean much if the school is a bad fit for a particular student. A definitive grade based on such criteria will, however, raise the potential of turning students off to schools that really would have been a good fit for them, despite not scoring well on Department criteria.
Moreover, although Ms. Nelson reports that the Department plans to address concerns that less selective colleges will be harmed in the scorecard because the student bodies in those colleges are more likely to dropout and take on debt, it seems hard to imagine how the Department will do so – without just awarding points for serving a large percentage of Pell-eligible students. Such a reward would greatly benefit proprietary schools, which would be a very surprising outcome given this administration’s criticisms of that sector.