College ratings system may rank loan repayments, graduation statistics

college-ratingThe Obama administration on Dec. 19 is releasing the rough outlines of a much-anticipated college ratings system that may grade schools on such factors as graduation rates, loan repayments and post-graduation income. Many details remain to be decided over the next few months, with some wary colleges and universities sure to protest any measurements that might hurt their reputations.

Without committing to any criteria, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) listed factors that it said could wind up in the final ratings system expected to be completed by the start of the 2015-16 school year. Those included the average net price after financial aid, federal loan defaults, the percentages of students who are low-income and the first in their families to attend college, and enrollment in graduate programs.

Officials emphasized that any grading system would not numerically rank schools or assign them A-F grades but instead would probably place them in such categories as high-performing, average or low. Special attention would be given to schools that improve.

Addressing concerns that the proposal could hurt schools that enroll large numbers of low-income students, ED leaders said they may group schools by admissions selectivity and program offerings so that, for example, a California State University school does not compete against an Ivy League campus or an engineering college with one that mainly trains teachers and social workers.

(Next page: What Education Department officials have to say about the plan)

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