Tuesday, January 20, 2015

U.S. Department of Education Proposes College Rating System

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed a rating system for colleges to help families and potential students determine whether or not the colleges and universities they are considering rank highly as compared to their peers. To read more click here:  (U.S. Department of Education).   I am completely supportive of accountability in higher education.  After all, higher education institutions receive millions and billions of dollars in tuition, state revenue, and grants.  However, do we need another rating system? 

Consider that institutions of higher education already must be accredited by federal regulated regional accrediting associations in order to accept Title IV funding for students eligible for federal financial aid.  The process of institutional accreditation ensures that higher education institutions are reviewed against a set of standards established by a regional accrediting body.  Further, many degree programs within a higher education institution also seek and receive specialized accreditation for degree program.  The specialized accreditation ensures that the degree program meets industry established standards that signal to potential students and families that the program meets high standards.  Regional accreditation for institutions and speciality accreditation for programs have been in place for many, many years.  Each of these accreditation processes require institutional resources to collect data, analyze data, and write a self-study to document how the institution or program meets the standards.  The claims in the self-study are verified by a team of reviewers who visit the institution to verify the claims.  This peer review ensures academic integrity and honesty. 

Consequently, I wonder whether or not another rating system will provide the information necessary to help families and potential students evaluate whether or not the higher education institution they are considering is worthy of consideration.  In addition to accreditation information that is available to potential students and families, there is information at the state level that compares higher education institutions within the state on essential measures that often include data on retention, completion, STEM-H (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Health) degrees awarded and other matrix important to state officials.  Further, the U.S. Department of Education already requires gainful employment information for certificates awarded by higher education institutions.  Gainful employment information tells the public how well the graduates in these certificate programs are doing with finding employment within their field.  Certainly, there is already a plethora of information available to families and students for their use in determining the value and quality of a higher education institution. 

I want to reiterate my support for accountability and evaluation in higher education.  However, additional regulatory responsibilities for reporting, such as the newly proposed rating system by the U.S. Department of Education, requires institutional resources to collect, analyze and report the data required to address the "report card".  These institutional resources continue to add to the cost of delivering a degree or certificate program to the students resulting in higher tuition.  I would rather see the U.S. Department of Education help families and students use existing evaluation processes - accreditation, gainful employment, and state metrics - to evaluate institutions of higher education than to create another rating system that will require additional institutional resources, and yet not create knowledgeable consumers. 

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