How the College-Ratings Plan Came About

December 19, 2014

August 22, 2013. President Obama publicly announces the ratings plan in a speech on college cost at the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York.

September 20, 2013. With the plan already under attack, Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls early criticism "more than a little silly"—parrying remarks by Terry W. Hartle, of the American Council on Education, who says the department has an obligation to use "perfect data" for its system. Mr. Duncan says that is "exactly the wrong premise" to start with.

October 30, 2013. In a notice published in the Federal Register, the Education Department announces that four public forums will be held to gather feedback on the ratings system.

November 6, 2013. The first of the hearings, at California State University-Dominguez Hills, gives administrators, faculty members, and students a chance to voice concerns about the limitations of the system.

November 13, 2013. Speakers at the second hearing, held at George Mason University, in Virginia, warn the department to take diversity into account, and not to end up discouraging colleges from enrolling low-income students.

December 17, 2013. The Education Department publishes a notice in the Federal Register asking colleges for feedback on the ratings system.

January 22, 2014. The president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, M. Peter McPherson, writes to Mr. Duncan to urge the adoption of an alternative system that would judge colleges based on their "retention and graduation rates; employment and continuing-education rates; and loan-repayment and default rates."

February 6, 2014. The Education Department holds a daylong symposium on the technical challenges of a ratings system. Among the takeaways: Federal data are deeply flawed, pleasing everyone is impossible, and a student-tracking unit-record system would solve almost every problem. But there are disagreements aplenty.

February 11, 2014. Community-college leaders grill the department at the Community College National Legislative Summit. Attendees wonder how the department would account for the differences in institutions’ missions and profiles.

March 19, 2014. The American Council on Education reiterates its disdain for the ratings system with a new report arguing, among other things, that applicants don’t rely on rankings or ratings when choosing a college.

April 30, 2014. At a hearing of a Senate subcommittee that oversees education appropriations, Mr. Duncan says the department will still produce the college ratings even if it doesn’t get the $10-million it asked Congress to allocate.

May 21, 2014. The department pushes back the expected publication date of its draft plan for the ratings from the spring to the fall.

June 10, 2014. Two congressmen, a Republican and a Democrat, introduce a resolution opposing the ratings system.

June 30, 2014. The departing chair of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators offers another alternative to the ratings system in a session at the group’s annual meeting. It would rate colleges based on "social responsibility" by assigning silver, gold, and platinum ratings.

July 28, 2014. Fifty private- and public-college leaders in Virginia sign a letter against the proposed ratings system, citing well-known concerns.

September 2, 2014. After months of concern about "unintended consequences" of the plan, Jamienne S. Studley, deputy under secretary of education, acknowledges that education researchers’ worries about those consequences are valid.

September 6, 2014. Ted Mitchell, the under secretary of education, says the ratings system will "reflect and incorporate the different missions of institutions."

September 12, 2014. A public-comment hearing—held by the federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance—stresses four key questions about the forthcoming system.

November 4, 2014. The Republican Party registers a resounding victory in midterm elections, retaking control of the Senate, expanding its majority in the House, and creating unfavorable prospects for Mr. Obama’s plan in Congress. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the incoming chair of the Senate committee that oversees education, makes clear that he is no fan of the ratings.

December 19, 2014. The Education Department releases a draft version of the plan.

—­Andy Thomason