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How Colleges Might Fare Under Federal Rating System

How Colleges Might Fare Under Federal Rating System
February 6, 2014

A think tank's relatively crude analysis of how colleges might fare under a system that rated them on access, affordability and student success finds few institutions scoring high marks on all three, as it chooses to define them. The report by the American Enterprise Institute's Center on Higher Education Reform -- trying to anticipate how an Obama administration plan to rate colleges might play out -- examines the performance of 1,700 four-year colleges on three metrics: the proportion of their undergraduates who are eligible for Pell Grants for needy students, the six-year graduation rate of their students, and their net price -- all of which it concedes are imperfect, if not seriously flawed, measures.

It then plots the institutions on a scatter chart (see an interactive version here), and notes that just 19 colleges score at what it deems an appropriate level on all three measures: graduation rate above 50 percent, net price under $10,000, and Pell Grant percentage of at least 25 percent. 

With its simple formula and and unimpressive results, the report may affirm the worst fears of some critics of the Obama plan. But they are likely to agree with the authors' points about the warnings about some of the pitfalls facing the designers of the new system and at least some elements of the report's conclusion:

"In thinking through these issues, the president and his advisers must acknowledge that a poorly designed accountability system will likely do more harm than good, providing critics with the ammunition they need to roll back future efforts to hold colleges accountable. Designers would be wise to learn from the past and anticipate some of these potential pitfalls ahead of time. We still don’t know exactly what the ratings will measure and how the policy will work, but the data discussed here show just how much progress we have to make in order to create the high-quality, affordable postsecondary opportunities that Americans need."

 

 

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