Since shortly after President Obama announced his plan to develop a federal ratings system for colleges last summer, the Education Department has been soliciting feedback on the plan from a wide range of constituents within higher education.
Officials have held town hall sessions on college campuses, a handful of open hearings, and closed-door meetings with college presidents and student leaders, among others. The department has also been actively soliciting ideas about the ratings system electronically through its firstname.lastname@example.org address.
The department last week released the emails in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Inside Higher Ed. A wide range of students, high school counselors, professors, higher education associations and other members of the general public sent their thoughts to Education Department officials.
College leaders and especially faculty members wrote that they were concerned about how the department would factor graduates' earnings into a rating system, worrying that such a focus does not reflect the true value of higher education. They said they were also concerned that the use of earnings data would punish colleges for producing graduates in important but lower-earning fields, such as teaching or nonprofit work.
A December Gallup/Inside Higher Ed poll found that that most college presidents are skeptical that the ratings system will be effective in reducing the cost of college.
One professor, for instance, wrote that she was concerned that the rating system would treat education "as if it were a stock investment, making earnings after graduation a sign of the quality of one's education."
The majority of people who emailed the department were critical of the ratings system, but several who wrote in did embrace the idea.
For instance, the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income students, wrote that it supports the department's efforts to develop a ratings system. Such a system would, among other things, highlight the success gaps for low-income and minority students in higher education and help institutions better serve those students, the organization said.
Administration officials have said they're aware of the concerns about developing a ratings system and are working to develop ratings that do not produce perverse incentives in higher education. Jamienne Studley, deputy under secretary of education, said last month that the department is seeking to develop a “nuanced and enriched idea of how you get value from education.” The department is still deciding whether a rating system would assign a singular, composite rating to college or score institutions in various categories.
The department is also currently soliciting more specific, technical advice on how best to develop its ratings system.
The emails are available for viewing in the reader below. (Open the full-page viewer to see the comments sorted by type of respondent.)