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Obama calls for new college ratings system

By Sapna Suresh     1/14/15 5:12pm

The United States Department of Education announced its proposal for a new rating method for institutions of higher learning on Dec. 19, 2014. Based on recent rankings of colleges with the best affordability, retention rate and diversity, Rice appears to rate highly on the scale.

President Obama asked the department to help bring attention to high-achieving two- and four-year universities and create a new system for college-bound students to assess the quality of universities.

Obama has called on the Department of Education to rate institutions on a three-part scale: high-performing, mid-performing and low-performing. Since the factors that make many institutions quality ones are subjective, the raters will focus on schools that “excel at enrolling students from all backgrounds, focus on maintaining affordability and succeed at helping all students graduate,” according to a press statement released by the Department of Education. Four-year and two-year institutions will both be considered, but separately, to compare schools with similar missions.

Specific data areas that the Department of Education will consider include how students’ financial aid needs are met, the cost of tuition, transfer rates and degree completion rates, as well as graduate earnings and graduate school attendance, according to the press release. The department is currently considering several ways to measure each of these parameters.

According to the press statement, Obama hopes to bring the United States to the forefront of education, as university degrees are becoming more and more critical for the American economy and middle class. Since taking office, the Obama administration has increased Pell Grants, devised the American Opportunity Tax credit and placed a cap on student loan payments to ensure the affordability of college.

Economics professor and Martel College master Ted Loch-Temzelides said he agreed with the parameters of the porposed new rating system.

“Diversity, affordability and graduation rates should be taken into consideration, in addition to academic criteria,” Loch-Temzelides said.

Martel College freshman Haley Uustal said she is unsure about whether the new rating system would be an improvement, but that she believes it would address factors that current ratings do not.

“The new system will provide a different field of comparison because the highly-ranked schools are ranked according to a different criteria than those that the Education Department is looking at,” Uustal said. “I do think that the factors the Education Department is looking at are more important for the average American.”

Rice has recently ranked highly in the ratings system’s categories. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance published its annual “Best College Values” list and ranked Rice seventh overall and fourth among private institutions. U.S. News and World Report noted that Rice has a freshman retention rate of 97 percent. Additionally, with a diverse undergraduate student body breakdown of 26 percent Asian, eight percent black, 12 percent Hispanic, 36 percent white, and 12 percent international, no singular race constitutes the majority of students.

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