Which rates better: University of Kansas or Kansas State University; University of Missouri or Missouri State University?
The nation’s education leaders aren’t going to tell you. You will have to decide for yourself.
Plans to launch the first national rating system for colleges are dead.
Instead, the plan announced by President Barack Obama two years ago has morphed into an information tool.
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Rather than score colleges on performance, it would be left to parents and students to peruse data collected by the federal government about each school and compare colleges based on what’s most important to each student.
The college choice process already is a deep sea of information, challenging for even the well-prepared to wade through. Now the U.S. Department of Education is expected to make public more information than ever before. Some education officials worry the average student or family isn’t prepared to sift through it.
“I’m not sure having more data available would really help students or parents,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “We need better ways of helping people with comprehension of the data.”
The new analytics would resemble College Navigator. That federal online system collects, analyzes and reports statistics such as a school’s enrollment, graduation rates, net cost and campus crime statistics.
The Chronicle of Higher Education described the new information system as “a ratings system without any ratings.”
“The department decided it was not doable within the timeline and the framework they were working,” Nassirian said. “It was a daunting task.”
The plan to develop a federal college rating system came charged with controversy from the moment it was announced. College and university leaders across the country said that while they welcomed accountability, they worried that because schools vary so much — private, public, two-year, four-year, large, small — there was no way universal ratings would be fair.
But Nassirian said his association did not find the idea of a rating system an assault on higher education. Public schools, he said, believe “if you take the money, you have a moral obligation to explain why you do what you do.”
Public colleges and universities, Nassirian said, were more concerned that a flawed rating system could penalize public schools “for doing what they were formed to do: give access to more at-risk, minority, first-generation students.”
A large portion of the students who choose the University of Central Missouri fit those categories, said Deborah Curtis, provost and chief learning officer. So her concerns about a rating system were similar.
She thinks the information tool is a good idea as long as the information the federal government demands from schools is clearly defined so that reporting results are uniform.
“The key piece is, and has always been,” she said, “what type of data is being reported and the accuracy of that data.”