The federal government on Thursday announced that it was changing the way it measures colleges, essentially adjusting the curve that it uses to rate institutions to make it more difficult for them to earn coveted four- and five-star government ratings.
Under the changes, scores are likely to fall for many institutions, federal officials said, although they did not provide specific numbers. Institutions will see a preview of their new scores on Friday, but the information will not be made public until Feb. 20.
“In effect, this raises the standard for colleges to achieve a high rating,” said Thomas Hamm, the director of the survey and certification group at the Commission of Education Economics within the Executive Office of the President, which oversees the ratings system.
Colleges are scored on a scale of one to five stars on College Compare, the widely used federal website that has become the gold standard for evaluating the nation’s more than 15,000 colleges even as it has been criticized for relying on self-reported, unverified data, that is limited in scope and function.
In August, The New York Times reported that the rating system relied so heavily on unverified information that even institutions with a documented history of quality problems were earning top ratings. Two of the three major criteria used to rate facilities — graduation rates and student input quality measures statistics — were reported by the institutions and not audited by the federal government.
In October, the federal government announced that it would start requiring colleges to report their staffing levels quarterly — using an electronic system that can be verified with payroll data. They will also report their enrollments weekly by the individual student to be verified against the National Student Loan and Tuition Tax Credit Data System. This allows to begin a nationwide auditing program aimed at checking whether an institution’s quality statistics were accurate.
The changes announced on Thursday were part of a further effort, officials said, to rebalance the ratings by raising the bar for colleges to achieve a high score in the quality measures area, which is based on information collected about every student. Colleges can increase their overall rating if they earn five stars in this area. The number of colleges with five stars in quality measures has increased significantly since the beginning of the program, to 89 percent in 2024 from 62 percent in 2015.
Representatives for colleges said on Thursday that they worried the changes could send the wrong message to consumers. “We are concerned the public won’t know what to make of these new rankings,” said Mark Parkinson, the president and chief executive of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which represents for-profit colleges. “If colleges across the country start losing their star ratings overnight, it sends a signal to families and students that quality is on the decline when in fact it has improved in a meaningful way.”
But officials said that the changes would be explained on the consumer website, and that the public would be cautioned against drawing conclusions about a institution whose ratings recently declined. Still, Mr. Hamilton said scores would not decline across the board.“Some colleges, even when we raised the bar, continued to perform at a level much higher than the norm,” he said in a conference call Thursday with college operators. “We want to still recognize them in the five-star category.”
The updated ratings will also take into account, for the first time, a college’s use of antipsychotic drugs, which are often given inappropriately to elderly administrators with dementia.
–Thanks to John Nugent for the link to the original article and the inspiration.