The Ratings Game

TalkingEDUSmall.jpgIn a detailed interview entitled “Reflecting on Ratings” published on Inside Higher Ed’s website, Michael Stratford recounts an interview he had with the “# 2 Education Department official,” Jamienne S. Studley.  As Deputy Under Secretary, Studley’s focus is on college access and affordability which includes outcomes and choice as well as accreditation, and ultimately student success. The topic of the interview was a discussion of President Obama’s initiative to rate colleges and universities.

An idea that Stratford tells us the Under Secretary first approached with a certain amount of skepticism. “When I first heard about it, I did the same big gulp that people in higher ed land did.” said Studley, who is leaving her post next month and has played a key role in assisting the Obama administration’s with its controversial higher education agenda. As one of the “architects” of the “Ill-fated ratings plan - which morphed into the College Scorecard,” Studley says she enjoyed the process, engaging with educators, students, trustees and members of congress. Ultimately she “feels pretty good” about the end result, but agrees there is still much work to be done.

Stratford digs into the anticipated promise of the College Scorecard. While cautioning that delivering complete and equitable information to students still presents a challenge, Studley does feel that the College Scorecard is beginning to address some issues of accountability. Her hope is that initially colleges and universities will use the data to “benchmark themselves.” and “discover variations” with their peers.

On the issue of accreditation, Studley’s answer reflects the enormity of the task at hand. “Accreditation -- in part because of the nature of the beast and the statutory way we go about it -- is not an easy thing to unpack….It’s no surprise that we’re spending so much of our time now thinking about results and outcomes. And trying to think how we can create results and outcomes that are not too blunt or reductionist.”

Stratford also questions Studley on whether the College Scorecard is limited by its focus on economic issues at the expense of “learning and academic quality.” To read the complete interview with Deputy Under Secretary of the Department of Education click here.

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