Obama 'scraps' college rating plan

US administration instead pledges to provide more data to students, researchers and institutions

June 25, 2015
US president Barack Obama giving a speech
Source: iStock

US president Barack Obama announced plans to develop a system of ranking higher education institutions in August 2013, in a bid to ensure the “best value” institutions would have access to the most federal funding.

However, US deputy under secretary of education Jamienne Studley wrote in a blog post today that the government now intends to release “new, easy-to-use tools” later this summer that will provide universities and students with “more data than ever before” so they can compare college costs and outcomes themselves. The tools will not, it has been reported in the US, create a scoring system for colleges, or group institutions by performance.

“This college ratings tool will take a more consumer-driven approach than some have expected, providing information to help students to reach their own conclusions about a college’s value,” she wrote.

“And as part of this release, we will also provide open data to researchers, institutions and the higher education community to help others benchmark institutional performance.”

The rankings proposal had received a mixed reception. It was criticised by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, which said the system could “undermine a much-needed opportunity to improve transparency and accountability in a meaningful way”, while F. King Alexander, president and chancellor of Louisiana State University, told Times Higher Education that the report cards would bring an end to the practice of mis-selling the benefits of higher education to students and parents.

Kim Cassidy, the president of Bryn Mawr College, a women’s liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, has said it would be an “extraordinarily difficult task” to produce a metric that would be fair to all institutions.

Ms Studley added that while “no single measure is perfect and many important elements of education cannot be captured by quantitative metrics”, data on the performance of universities “drives the conversation forward to make sure colleges are focused on access, affordability and students’ outcomes.” 

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