We know a college degree is the best investment students can make in their future. But despite historic investments and reforms, attending college has never been more expensive. Too many young adults are burdened with debt as they seek to launch a career, start a family, buy a home or save for retirement – and too many students are afraid to pursue higher education because they think it’s too expensive.
The federal government provides over $150 billion each year to support students as they pursue postsecondary education – from public and private universities to community colleges to technical schools and online programs. Although choosing a college is one of the most important decisions that students face, clear and useful information about the cost and quality of different colleges is often hard to find.
In August, President Obama put forward an ambitious new agenda to combat rising college costs, encourage colleges to improve their value, and empower students and families with information to make informed decisions about which college to attend. The President’s plan included three parts: paying for performance; promoting innovation and competition; and ensuring that student debt remains affordable. As part of this plan, President Obama directed the U.S. Department of Education to develop a ratings system to better inform students and encourage institutions to improve. These ratings will compare colleges with similar missions and identify those that do the most to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as colleges that are improving their performance. In the future, President Obama has proposed to use the rating system to steer taxpayer dollars toward high-performing colleges.
To better understand college affordability and value, inform the development of the college ratings system and gather input from the wide range of stakeholders, today the Department is launching a nationwide series of public discussions by convening student advocates and leaders – since students will benefit the most from these efforts – at the Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The Department wants to hear feedback from students and parents, state officials, college presidents from a variety of institutions, higher education faculty and administrators, businesses and industry leaders, researchers, data experts, higher education associations, innovators, philanthropies, policy leaders and others to hear their thoughts on how best to promote college affordability and value while ensuring access and success for disadvantaged students is encouraged, not discouraged.
Today’s discussion will build on conversations Secretary Duncan has led with students and college leaders about the importance of college affordability, including events during his back-to-school bus tour through the Southwest last week. During the tour, Secretary Duncan and senior leaders from the Department met with high school students from across the region and hosted a college access and affordability town hall at Arizona State University.
To develop the college ratings system, the Department wants the country’s best ideas and most creative thinking to addresses key themes:
- College access, such as the percentage of students receiving Pell grants;
- College affordability, such as average tuition, scholarships, and loan debt; and
- Outcomes, such as students’ graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of college graduates.
Over the coming months, the Department looks forward to hearing what measures should be included, how to best assess college affordability and value, and how to provide the information in the most user-friendly and helpful way for students and families. Leaders from the Department will be traveling across the country to host open forums, town halls, and roundtable meetings to gather suggestions.
The Department will use the feedback it receives to propose a rating system that will be available for public comment. Once the measures are finalized, ratings will be published on the College Scorecard before the 2015 school year. Over the coming years, the Department of Education will refine these measures in collaboration with the higher education community, students and families, and the public.
Members of the general public are invited to send their ideas about the President’s plan and suggestions for the ratings system to firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the college value and affordability outreach initiative will be available on the Department’s College Affordability and Completion website in the coming days.
Martha Kanter is the U.S. Under Secretary of Education