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APLU Proposes Alternative Plan to Achieve the Enhanced Transparency & Accountability Goals of President Obama’s Higher Ed Ratings System

Association Details Ways to Provide More Accurate, Accessible Information & Tighten up Institutional Eligibility for Title IV Monies

January 22, 2014 – The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today formally responded to the Obama administration’s proposed college ratings system by agreeing with the president’s core objectives of greater transparency and accountability, but providing an alternative approach to achieve those goals.

In its response to the administration’s call for comments on the president’s plan (“Providing Greater Value to Students and the Public through Enhanced Transparency & Accountability in Higher Education”), APLU noted that public universities by their mission and nature share the administration’s goal of transparency and accountability. Moreover, APLU feels that some important reforms are needed. However, the association is concerned about the complexities of the proposed ratings system and the practical challenges of implementing it.

APLU supports making essential and accurate information about all higher education institutions widely available so that students, their families and the public can make judgments on institutions based on their own priorities. In addition, APLU proposes tightening up the Title IV federal student aid eligibility process and measuring institutions against key metrics. These measurements should have real consequences, which would be in keeping with the president’s goals to protect students and better use federal resources.

“Public universities support President Obama’s call for transparency and accountability among all higher education institutions. The alternative approach we propose seeks to achieve our shared goals with the president,” APLU President Peter McPherson said.

For the public disclosure component of its plan, APLU proposes that four key metrics be included in either an improved College Scorecard or another user-friendly government reporting site: 1) student progress and graduation rates – using the Student Achievement Measure (SAM) when available instead of the less accurate federal rate; 2) loan repayment and default rates, which correlates with successful post-graduation employment; 3) average net price by income, which will help students and their families understand the level of support through grants and loans they can expect based on their financial situation; and 4) employment rate and enrollment in advanced degree programs to track the success of graduates from each institution.

“President Obama is absolutely right that taxpayer money should not go to institutions that perform very poorly for students and in many cases leave students in a great amount of debt without any degree or tangible benefit to show for it. The APLU proposal seeks to help address that situation through thoughtful reform of a broken Title IV institutional eligibility system,” McPherson said.

That reform must be fair and take into consideration the varied student populations of institutions in the country. APLU calls for the creation of a “student readiness index,” which would adjust for aggregate student body characteristics. After applying a student readiness index, APLU’s proposal calls for institutions to be measured against a set of national standards, using a few critical factors: 1) student progress and graduation rates (using SAM if available); 2) employment/enrollment in advanced education; and 3) loan repayment and default rates.

After measuring institutions, as adjusted for readiness, APLU calls for three performance tiers, 1) a bottom tier, which could result in partial or full withdrawal of future Title IV funds for an institution (the current all or nothing eligibility determination process has not worked very well); 2) a middle satisfactory tier, the group in which the majority of institutions would fall; and 3) a top tier for institutions that have a significant number of underrepresented/disadvantaged students in their student body and serve them very well. Those top tier institutions could be rewarded with additional dollars i.e. a Pell bonus. These three tiers go to some of what the president wants to do with a rating system and seeks to achieve some of the same goals.

APLU is a research, policy, and advocacy organization representing 228 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and related organizations. Founded in 1887, APLU is the nation’s oldest higher education association with member institutions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, Canada, and Mexico. Annually, member campuses enroll 4.3 million undergraduates and 1.3 million graduate students, award 1.1 million degrees/credentials, employ over 1.3 million faculty and staff, and conduct more than $40 billion in university-based research.

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