Sunday, May 19

UC remains skeptical of proposed federal college ratings system

The University of California recently expressed support for President Barack Obama’s college ratings system, but took issue with some of the criteria used to rate institutions, including one that would measure income after graduation.

Obama released the framework on Dec. 19 for his proposed ratings system, which would rate most four-year and two-year universities in the United States on criteria such as their affordability, access and graduate outcomes.

The proposed ratings system would differ from many other rankings systems because it would not place universities in order based on academic quality, but would instead categorize them based on the financial value they offer students. This is the first time the federal government has proposed a ratings system of this kind.

UC spokesman Steve Montiel said UC President Janet Napolitano submitted comments on the ratings system to the Department of Education in January 2014 that were specifically addressed in the draft. Napolitano’s comments highlighted the possible repetitiveness of creating a ratings system and the nuances associated with rating the variety of universities in the U.S., he said.

While the University thinks a ratings system for universities is generally helpful for the federal government to decide how it allocates more than $150 billion in student aid, the UC has expressed skepticism about the new system.

“I am deeply skeptical that there are criteria that can be developed that are in the end meaningful, because there will be so many exceptions, once you get down to it. It’s not like – you know, you’re not buying a car or a boat,” said Napolitano in a December 2013 interview with The Washington Post.

Montiel said the University remains concerned about some of the criteria used to determine ratings and the effectiveness of rating universities with diverse academic goals on the same scale.

University officials think that looking at criteria like graduate income is problematic because many UC students go into public service, where jobs tend to have lower salaries than in the private sector, Montiel said.

After graduation, a significant number of UC students go into public service, including the Peace Corps and the education industry. UC data shows that about 20 percent of UC graduates go on to become educators in California’s K-12 and higher education systems.

Montiel said the UC thinks existing data on higher education institutions could take into account the diversity in goals and still provide important information on the minimum standards that universities should be able to meet.

UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said although UCLA officials have similar concerns, they think the ratings system would help families with their college decisions.

“(Setting minimum standards) is necessary for students and their families who want help in making higher education decisions,” Vazquez said.

The ratings system would group colleges and universities that provide bachelor’s or associate degrees into high-performing, low-performing and middle-performing categories. These classifications would be based on many metrics, including the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, graduation rates, graduate income and the average net price of the institution.

The Department of Education is taking public comments on the ratings system until Feb. 17. The system will be in place before the 2015-2016 academic year.

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  • Uclalien

    If UC students are disproportionately drawn to public service, that would imply that something about attending a UC pushes a student that route. If public service jobs do pay less than similar private sector jobs (I’m not convinced that they do when all benefits are accounted for) and students are being persuaded to go this route, that’s an important fact to know when choosing a college that could cost you 10s, if not 100s of thousands of dollars to attend.

    When I was choosing a college, I would have found it very helpful to know how much the typical student from certain universities make when compared to the cost of attending those colleges. It would have been even more useful to know the average wage by major vs. the cost of attending a college.