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A USDE Postsecondary Institutions Rating System--A Bad Idea!!

February 13, 2014

Within the past six months, President Obama outlined an ambitious new agenda to combat rising college costs and to make college more affordable for American families.  Included in this plan is a postsecondary education rating system so that students and their families can have the information needed to select colleges that provide the best value.   If implemented, it would rate each institution's performance using such factors as graduation rate, average tuition, student debt and graduate income, and potentially award more federal aid to those institutions with higher ratings.

While I affirm the President's commitment to issues of access, affordability, and transparency, I do not support the proposal by the U.S. Department of Education to institute a national rating system for colleges and universities.  I stand with most sectors of the higher education community (public and private), particularly the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, in stating that this is a bad idea!

One of the strengths of our higher education system is diversity.  Colleges and universities offer different programs based on different mission statements and reach different students with different career aspirations.  This is particularly true for many Christian institutions that often have a very strong focus on church-related ministries and world service.  This attempt to create a single rating metric could diminish  the variety of higher eduction options available to students and could actually work against the President's 2012 goal for more college graduates.  A "one shoe fits all" approach just does not work with higher education.

Furthermore, there is already a plethora of information available for students and families as college choices are being made.  The internet is replete with information about postsecondary institutions of all types.  While current, accurate information is very important, I believe the federal government cold best serve the general public by joining hands with higher education institutions and organizations in teaching potential students how to ask the right questions and how to evaluate a college that is best rather than developing their own "ranking" system which is what the proposed metric would become.

Students from different age groups, from different backgrounds, and with different career goals are well served by our diverse higher eduction system.  A single rating system cannot represent the variety of institutions that are available to students.  I hope the federal government will recognize this and instead will partner with the larger higher education community to help students and institutions achieve their full potential.  With all due respect, the federal government is not always the answer, particularly when it comes to attempting to standardize higher eduction through a national rating system.  it is a bad idea!

Larry J. McKinney
Higher Education Consultant

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