The Obama administration expects to have a first draft of its college rating system by this spring, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday.
After soliciting public input at town hall discussions and hearings at college campuses  across the country this fall, the department will convene a “technical symposium” early next year to discuss ratings methodology before releasing a preliminary version for public comment at some point in the spring, Duncan said.
The administration’s goal is to implement the ratings system in the 2014-15 academic year and eventually persuade Congress to link federal student aid funding to the ratings system.
“It is an ambitious timeframe,” Duncan conceded on a call with reporters on Wednesday, in which he again emphasized that the administration has not yet decided on the metrics that will make up the federal college rating system that the president proposed in August .
“We’ve seen some articles [about] people who are already opposed to the ratings plan, which is a little bit funny to me because it literally doesn’t exist,” he said.
Many college and university leaders -- and the associations that represent them in Washington -- have been skeptical, if not critical, of measuring student outcomes based on metrics such as earnings and graduation rates. Some have also decried the availability and quality of data needed to carry out a ratings system.
“Data is always imperfect and we will use the best data we have,” Duncan said, adding that the administration would produce new iterations of the metrics “as better data becomes available.”
Education Department officials also said Wednesday that they planned to host, in collaboration with the White House, a “datapalooza” in the early spring that will bring together innovators and app designers to look at better ways to package and provide access to existing federal data on colleges and students, such as the government’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, known as IPEDS.
It also became clearer on Wednesday who might be helping to lead the formation of the ratings system, as the White House formally announced  that the president would be nominating Ted Mitchell  to replace Martha J. Kanter as under secretary of education. Mitchell is the former president of Occidental College and the current president of New Schools Venture Fund -- a “venture philanthropy” fund focused on K-12 education reform.