From the start of this Administration, President Obama has charged our team to join him in doing everything we can to make college an affordable reality for everyone. As part of that effort, in August 2013, he asked us to develop a system that will help students compare the value offered by colleges and that will hold institutions accountable for preparing their students to be successful.
Today, I want to update you on our progress as part of that effort.
Since the President outlined this initiative, we have seen even more progress toward these broader goals. The higher education conversation has shifted from simply ensuring access to one that focuses on success – supporting students through completion and readiness for careers, citizenship and life. We’ve recognized that there is great value in the colleges and universities who serve students from all backgrounds and provide them with a quality education at an affordable price – and that spending more money and excluding more students are not necessarily signs of quality. We’re seeing important signs of progress. Some States and colleges are taking bold steps toward lowering costs and improving outcomes. And in addition to a higher-than-ever high school graduation rate, more Americans are completing degrees than ever before, including more Latino and African-American students.
Building on this momentum, consistent with the objectives laid out by the President, it is critical to ensure that we are doing all we can to:
- Help families choose a college that works for them – and that they can afford – and create a user-friendly tool that supports that selection and comparison process
- Increase transparency and make information about schools’ outcomes free and useful
- Improve our measurements of college outcomes so that students and taxpayers get the most for their investment
- Engage students, parents, higher education leaders, researchers, experts, counselors and advocates about how best to meet these objectives
We are pleased to report that we are making progress toward those goals. And as part of this update, as we have over the course of the last two years, we want to share some of what we have heard as we have continued working on this project:
- Students of all backgrounds, but especially lower-income students and those who counsel them, are eager for additional information that will help them make smart choices among their college options, and they would welcome the federal government lending its credibility and resources to this effort.
- Colleges have many missions and serve many different kinds of students. Developing meaningful ways to evaluate them through a rating system is an extremely complex and iterative process that appropriately takes time and thoughtfulness.
- While no single measure is perfect, and many important elements of education cannot be captured by quantitative metrics, cultivating and releasing data about performance drives the conversation forward to make sure colleges are focused on access, affordability and students’ outcomes.
Taking into account that feedback, and to advance the overarching goals set by the President, later this summer we plan to release new, easy-to-use tools that will provide students with more data than ever before to compare college costs and outcomes. This college ratings tool will take a more consumer-driven approach than some have expected, providing information to help students to reach their own conclusions about a college’s value. And as part of this release, we will also provide open data to researchers, institutions and the higher education community to help others benchmark institutional performance.
Through our research and our conversations with the field, we have found that the needs of students are very diverse and the criteria they use to choose a college vary widely. By providing a wealth of data – including many important metrics that have not been published before – students and families can make informed comparisons and choices based on the criteria most important to them. With assistance from the creative U.S. Digital Services team, we are using feedback from students, parents, college advisors and high school guidance counselors to examine how we can make critical information about college cost and outcomes relevant and useful to guide decisions about college search and selection.
At the same time, we will continue our efforts to identify colleges providing the best value and encourage all colleges to improve. We will share this new data and methodological considerations with institutions, researchers, app developers and other interested players to jumpstart and accelerate efforts across the country to develop meaningful metrics for accountability, and – as the President asked – we will continue to improve these measurements and find ways to make sure that student aid investments are directed to colleges that provide meaningful opportunities and deliver a quality, affordable education for their students.
We are looking forward to unveiling the new tools later this summer, and continuing to work with the community to make sure that we all are helping to make affordable, high-quality higher education a reality for everyone.
Jamienne Studley is the Deputy Under Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education.