Amid Rankings Release, Future Federal College Ratings Discussed

By Katy Hopkins, Communications Staff 

With the beginning of a new college school year come fresh institutional rankings, compiled by outlets including the Washington Monthly, whose lists are already published, and U.S. News & World Report, which will unveil its rankings next week. 

Adding to the rankings furor this year is President Obama’s recent proposal for a college ratings system – separate from lists that numerically rank colleges but created to differentiate colleges that provide value from those that don’t.

At a New America Foundation event Tuesday marking the release of the Washington Monthly rankings, White House Domestic Policy Council Deputy Director James Kvaal reviewed the president’s ratings system proposal, which aims to ultimately tie federal financial aid funding to institutional performance ratings.

The ratings system won’t aim to “punish” institutions, Kvaal said, but will attempt to recognize colleges that provide access at affordable prices with successful outcomes after graduation. 

Institutions across the country are already experimenting with greater access and affordability, Kvaal noted, citing Georgia Tech’s $6,600 online master’s degree in computer science, among other programs.

“The challenge that we have, then, is not to start from scratch, but how do we accelerate the pace of this innovation?” Kvaal asked. “How do we help students and their families navigate this higher education landscape in a way that they can find what works for them?”

Critics of rankings systems often note that transparent methodologies give institutional officials insight into ways to raise their scores in the rankings. But in a well-constructed federal ratings system, that end result would be a positive, Kvaal said. 

“[In a ratings system] you’re looking at a broad measure of the value that you’re offering students; you’re not trying to make an artificial distinction among colleges that are offering similar levels of performance,” Kvaal noted. “Institutions trying to game their performance will be a good thing if we’re rewarding institutions for [measures of access and affordability].”

“Colleges will be trying to improve their ratings,” he continued, “and that’s very much our hope.”

 

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