President Obama proposes college ratings system

Courtesy of the White House
Courtesy of the White House

President Barack Obama has announced plans for a college ratings system with the end goal of tying federal funding to it. While a piece of legislation has yet to be announced, the president is asking for input from government stakeholders on the proposal by Feb. 17.

While the proposal will continue to undergo revisions, an outline by the White House lists the criteria universities will be rated on as access, affordability and student success outcomes.

The number of students receiving Pell Grants and the number of first-generation college students a school enrolls, contribute to the access portion of the rating system. UCR is poised to score well in this category, since about 50 percent of students who attend the university receive Pell Grants, and over half of UCR students are the first in their families to go to college.

Affordability in the outline describes average tuition — ranging from $22,000 to $44,000 in the U.S. — loan debt and scholarships, all of which affect students’ ability to afford an education. The cost of an institution is an important decider for many students on campus, as possible tuition hikes discussed last quarter have caused outrage among many UC students.

Outcomes are briefly described as graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings and advanced degrees earned by graduates. UCR’s four-year graduation rate in recent times has fallen to 41 percent, lagging behind other UCs.

Carolyn Henrich, Director of Education at the UC Washington Center, gave her take on why the federal government chose to use these categories. For example, Henrich described graduate success as important because “of student debt and (students’) abilities to pay back loans owed to the government once they graduate.”

In 2014, Time magazine attempted to emulate Obama’s scale with their own rating system. UCR scored the highest on average in all three of the categories with this system, and UC San Diego, UC Irvine and UC Davis were all in the top six. The Obama proposal however, avoids classifying universities based on rank, it opts for a rating system instead to display each school’s strengths and weaknesses.

The rating system may have far-reaching effects, including university funding. The proposal seeks to ensure “wise and effective use” of the $150 billion that goes to federal student aid every year, indicating that the new ratings system could affect how funding is distributed. This, however, has been a source of controversy for some students and universities regarding the involvement the government will now take in funding education.

Chancellor Kim Wilcox is in favor of the system, since it allows universities that are typically overlooked by rating systems to have a better chance to put themselves on the map. He believes that affordability and access are “the right things to make comparisons about” when it comes to rating schools, he told the Sacramento Bee.

Fourth-year English major Raul Aguilera gave his opinion on the plan. “I guess we’ll have to see how this is going to turn out but I think that (the proposal) is pretty solid and can provide a chance for the government to help out schools who typically don’t get enough funding,” he said.


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