The U.S. Department of Education is creating a college ratings system that will better inform students and promote improvement among institutions of higher education such as Boston University, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Wednesday in a press conference.
“We look forward to our continued efforts to collect guidance about how to design a college ratings system that makes sense, making sure that Americas extraordinary system of higher ed. — the best in the world — continues to thrive, grow and strengthen our entire nation,” he said.
The ratings system, which would take effect in fall 2014, would address students’ ability to afford colleges and universities, Duncan said.
“The sad reality is that attending college today has actually never been more expensive,” he said. “That’s why in August, [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama proposed a new college value and affordability plan that would pay for performance, promote innovation and competition, and assure that student debt remains affordable.”
In August, Obama unveiled his plan for higher education reforms to lower the cost of college. Proposed reforms included efforts to cap student loans as well as plans to create a ratings system for colleges based on value and returns on investment.
Kevin Lang, an economics professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, said the increase in college tuition is a major problem for students.
“It has become much more expensive to go to a four-year institution, public or private,” Lang said. “At the same time, the labor market … for the last several years has been weak. We’ve seen recent college graduates not doing very well and having significant debt, which puts them in a very difficult financial situation.”
The DOE is accepting feedback on how to best promote college affordability and access, Duncan said during the press conference. Officials will be holding town hall meetings and roundtable discussions with educational institutions across the country.
“To develop this college rating system, which again does not exist yet, the department wants to hear the country’s best ideas and most creative thinking to address,” he said.
Duncan said he and other senior department officials have spoken with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the American Council on Education and other college organizations about the rankings initiative.
Evangeline Stefanakis, a professor in the School of Education, said the plan to create a new rankings system has many limitations.
“It’s not about a measurement system that can help us look at how to make [colleges affordable],” she said. “…The issue is, much more broadly, how are we going to restructure the higher education institutions, private and public.”
Stephanie Conyack, a School of Management freshman, said the ratings system could be effective in driving down extremely high tuition rates.
“If it would foster competition among colleges to lower their prices and give more people among different backgrounds an opportunity to go to college, it would be really beneficial,” Conyack said.
CAS junior Ali Uslu said the ratings system would be ineffective in driving down the price of a higher education.
“In order to change how economic systems function, you have to change the economic system itself from the infrastructure,” he said. “There are alternative ranking systems like the U.S. News and World Report. Any kind of new ranking system would have to prove itself, and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.”
School of Management senior Caroline Snell said while a degree is key to success, a ranking system will not make a difference in the cost of college.
“I don’t really see how [a ratings system] would make college more affordable,” she said. “… People attend colleges based on more than just the ranking.”