WASHINGTON — The Education Department on Wednesday asked for the public’s help to develop a new ratings system for America’s colleges and universities.
It announced a series of public forums next month in California, Virginia, Iowa and Louisiana, with the goal of having a draft system ready by next fall. By 2018, the plan is to tie some financial aid to schools based on performance using the system.
The ratings system, sought by President Barack Obama, is designed to provide students with more information about schools and help rein in the rising cost of college and make institutions of higher learning more accountable in areas such as graduation rates.
Members of the higher education community have questioned whether it is the federal government’s job to create such a system and whether it would be fair.
For example, if graduates’ salaries are factored in, they worry that a school with lower-paid graduates in fields such as social work or with a high number of stay-at-home parents could be unfairly judged.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters on a conference call that it’s too early to know exactly what metrics will be used to develop the system, but that it will be thoughtfully done.
He said the federal government spends $150 billion annually on grants and loans, none of which is based on outcome.
“Quite candidly, that’s been the problem,” Duncan said.
Earlier Wednesday, Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, a former governor of Indiana, told reporters that he’s “very skeptical” of the federal government putting together such a system. He said that’s better left to the marketplace.
Already, Daniels said, students and their families are realizing that high tuition costs don’t necessarily mean those are the best schools, and employers are questioning the value of diplomas from some institutions — the type of factors that are driving conversations about college value.
“There’s going to be a move to accountability,” Daniels said, whether it’s the federal government doing it or not.
The Education Department forums are scheduled Wednesday at California State University, Dominguez Hills; Nov. 13 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.; Nov. 15 at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls; and Nov. 21 at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.