ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Do We Need a Federal College Rating System?

July 3, 2014 by Alex McHugh

Rasmussen recently released poll results showing that 50% of American adults now favor the creation of a federal college rating system. The idea, proposed by the White House last summer, has been gaining momentum ever since. Why are so many clamoring for new ratings?

Adam F. Falk, the president of Williams College in Massachusetts, put forward one explanation in the New York Times: “As with many things, the desire to solve a complicated problem in what feels like a simple way can capture people’s imagination.”

But it’s not so complicated. The public’s interest in such a rating stems from an understandable desire to know which schools are doing a good job and which are not. Sadly, the current gatekeeping system for federal financial aid—accreditation—has proven outdated, ineffective, and opaque. Virtually all schools are accredited, and rarely are they ever closed down on questions of value. Schools that graduate students in single digits have the same “accredited” standing when it comes to federal financial aid as those which graduated 98%! And yet there is no way for families or taxpayers to know the difference. Our trustee guide on the subject examines how accreditors’ metrics measure everything but the quality of education offered at a given school.  

Rather than a new federal rating system, there is a much better and simpler answer. Reliable, clear metrics—accompanied by certified assurance of financial stability—that accreditors have failed for decades to provide. Readily-available data can help parents and students decide which colleges offer a quality degree, and which offer little more than a receipt for a costly education.

ACTA has such a solution, and it builds on what is already available. Michael Poliakoff, ACTA’s Vice President of Policy, in testimony before the Department of Education, explained that this could be as simple as:

…enhancing College Navigator with new and powerful metrics would give students, parents, and policymakers the tools they need. It could be a legal requirement that all colleges and universities have their performance metrics audited and certified—along with their financial stability—with hefty penalties for willful misreporting or fraud. The Department of Education could require as a condition for receiving federal financial aid that colleges and universities display—and display prominently—the links to these crucial metrics, with, perhaps a signature acknowledgment by the student that he or she has read and considered them.

Projects like College Navigator and the Voluntary System of Accountability are a good start and point the way to the solution. Improved, validated information, not a new federal institution, is what the public needs.

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