U.S. Dept. Of Ed College Ratings Hearing, George Mason

George Mason University recently hosted the U.S. Department of Education’s second of four college affordability forums to discuss the Obama administration’s proposed college ratings system. At the event, students expressed the same concerns to the department that thousands of current and prospective college students, like me, have across the nation: Students want more data to assess our financial future before enrolling in college and taking on massive amounts of student loan debt. To start, these data need to include information about the net price of college, the average incomes of graduates in different fields, and data on internship placement rates.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan opened the discussion with general concerns about lack of accessibility and affordability in higher education. He explained how an effective college ratings system will help students make informed decisions regarding perhaps one of the largest investments of their lives. According to Duncan, having better information at hand will allow students to make better choices, and therefore students will have better outcomes.

If implemented correctly, there is potential for many students to benefit from President Obama’s ratings system, which will rate schools based on their value. Value will be determined by measures such as:

  • Percentage of students receiving Pell Grants
  • Actual affordability, based on average tuition, scholarships, and student loan debt
  • Outcomes like graduation rates and graduate earnings

As college costs and student loan default rates continue to rise, it is imperative that  prospective students have data to identify and compare institutions to make smart choices about their education. Students should get the best bang for their buck. If students, like myself, have to take out thousands of dollars in student loans and go into debt, we deserve the reassurance that someday we will be able to pay off those loans. The ratings system could help future college students do just that.

Most importantly though, these ratings should provide incentives to improve the cost of college overall, regardless of job placement rates. Students should not have to go into crushing student loan debt to receive a high-quality education.