USDE Releases Framework for College Ratings System and Updates on Other Federal Issues

Publication Number 46 January 13, 2015

U.S. Department of Education Releases Framework for College Ratings system

On December 19, 2014, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) released what it termed a framework for a proposed college ratings system. Plans to provide the framework had been underway for a number of months, following extensive hearings and consultations by USDE. In announcing the framework, USDE stated that the rating system is intended to identify institutions that provide “good value,” focusing on access, affordability and student outcomes, including graduation and transfer rates, completion of advanced degrees and the kinds of jobs in which graduates are employed and their level of earnings.

A news release issued in conjunction with publication of the framework notes that USDE still intends to release a ratings system in time for the 2015-2016 school year. USDE is now seeking comments on its proposal, to be sent to by February 17, 2015.

Education committee leadership in the Senate and House of Representatives responded swiftly to USDE’s framework. On December 19, 2014, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), now chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and John Kline (R-MN), chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, issued a joint statement noting their opposition to the proposed college ratings system. Alexander called a college rating system “impossible and unnecessary” and Kline urged the Secretary of Education to stop work on such a system immediately.

USDE Deputy Under Secretary Jamienne Studley will address the college ratings system at a luncheon plenary session on January 27 at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) 2015 Annual Conference in Washington, DC. More information on the Annual Conference can be found on the CHEA Website.


Proposed regulations intended to enhance performance and improve accountability of teacher preparation programs were published by USDE in the Federal Register on December 3, 2014 (see Federal Update #45). The proposed regulations include provisions addressing accreditation, assessment and reporting requirements of teacher education programs. Public comments, which can be submitted using the government’s electronic portal, must be received by February 2, 2015.


On December, 22, 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued “Education Should Strengthen Oversight of Schools and Accreditors.” The report was requested by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), former ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, who retired at the end of 2014.

The GAO report focused on sanctions that institutional accrediting organizations have imposed on colleges and universities (for example, show cause orders, probation or termination of accreditation), looking at 1) what sanctions accreditors have taken against schools that did not comply with accreditation standards, 2) how likely accreditors are to sanction schools on the basis of an institution’s student outcomes versus financial issues and 3) how USDE uses information on accreditor sanctions in its institutional oversight efforts.

CHEA President Judith Eaton noted, in an Inside Higher Ed article on the report that "It's a mischaracterization of the accreditation process to judge it solely by the sanctions,” calling accreditation “a process that is formative in nature, and its focus is on making things better.”


The Senate HELP Committee and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Republican members have announced the committee rosters for the new session of Congress. In the Senate, Lamar Alexander will chair the HELP Committee, with Patty Murray (D-WA) now serving as ranking member. John Kline will remain chair of the House education committee, with Bobby Scott (D-VA) becoming ranking member. In the Senate, Virginia Foxx (R-NC) likely to continue as chair of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, with Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX) continuing as ranking member.