The Education Department’s research arm is seeking technical expertise from higher education constituents on how to develop the Obama administration’s proposed college ratings system.
In a notice  published Tuesday in the Federal Register, the National Center for Education Statistics will issue a formal request for detailed input on how the administration should proceed with its proposal, which the department has dubbed the “Postsecondary Institution Ratings System” (PIRS).
Officials said they are seeking responses from a wide range of stakeholders in higher education, including institutions, faculty and staff members, students, data experts, state officials, think tanks and publishers. In addition, organizations that have developed ratings systems for other industries are “strongly encouraged to respond.” Education Department officials told reporters last week that they had been looking at the rating systems produced by Consumer Reports and the electronic gaming industry. They also said they were impressed by the voluntary disclosures  that Lehigh University makes about its graduates’ employment and median salaries.
In its request for information, the department poses 30 wide-ranging questions to guide responses. Officials are seeking input on what data should be used in the ratings system, how metrics should be weighted, how to define peer groups of colleges, and how best to present the ratings to the public. The document makes a distinction between the metrics, weightings, and peer groups that may be used for “informational purposes” and those that may be used for “accountability purposes.”
The department is pushing ahead with plans to develop an informational college rating system by the 2015 academic year. But it will need Congress to accomplish the “accountability” part of its goal, to distribute federal student aid based on colleges’ performance in the rating system starting in 2018.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that the administration is still deciding whether the ratings system will assign to colleges a single, composite rating or create different scores across a handful of different categories.