Higher Education Community Members Offer Concerns on Federal Rating System

Charlotte Etier, Research Analyst

On Friday, Representatives Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Michael Capuano (D-MA), and Mike Quigley (D-IL) sponsored a briefing on Capitol Hill to share concerns from members of the higher education community on the proposed Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS). While the deadline for PIRS has shifted multiple times, it is now set to be in effect prior to the start of the 2015-16 academic year. The event, "College Ratings: What are the higher education professionals saying?" included remarks from:

  • Jon Alger, President of James Madison University (JMU)
  • Terry Hartle, Senior Vice President, American Council on Education
  • Sarah Flanagan, Vice President for Government Relations and Policy Development, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU)
  • Cheryl Smith, Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Government Affairs, United Negro College Fund

Rep. Foxx opened the briefing by urging other members of Congress to vote for H.R.970 - the Supporting Academic Freedom through Regulatory Relief Act, which prevents the creation of the PIRS. Other panelists echoed Foxx’s concerns and outlined similar problems, including JMU’s Agler, who focused on the problems associated with the creation of peer categories, saying “There is much diversity among all circumstances and missions at institutions. We do not know what the peer categories are going to be and how schools will be lumped together.”

Terry Hartle, from ACE, expressed four major concerns from their members on PIRS:

  • The Department of Education (ED) has had a great deal of difficulty specifying the purpose of PIRS other than stating it would provide consumer information and accountability; both of which are important but very different.
  • There is a lack of accurate and reliable data for the creation of such a system.
  • The problems associated with the creation of peer groups.
  • The lack of transparency and openness by ED about their plans. 

Hartle stressed the need for a better understanding of ED’s plans on the structure of PIRS, including formulas, and said that while staff members have been willing to meet and receive feedback they have not be willing to lay out specific details. 

Sarah Flanagan, from NAICU, also opposed the ratings system, citing reasons similar to other speakers, including the federal government’s attempt to define what data is valuable to students without conducting consumer testing. Said Flanagan, “No amount of data could make this work, because at the end of the day each person makes a choice on which college to attend as a [sample size] of one.”

NASFAA has taken an active role in providing feedback on the creation of the PIRS, including submitting written comments to ED on the Ratings System Framework which addressed many of the speaker's concerns related to peer groups, the importance of quality data, and the importance of consumer testing. NASFAA will continue to provide members with information as it becomes available.


Publication Date: 5/18/2015

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