Student-Aid Leaders Call for Alternatives to Obama’s College-Rating System

July 01, 2014

The departing chair of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators offered his alternative on Monday to President Obama’s forthcoming college-rating system, calling for a system based on "social responsibility."

In a session of the association’s annual conference here, Craig Munier, director of financial aid at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, detailed a system that would recognize colleges that are doing a good job of educating low-income students and would shame those that aren’t.

The plan, which is modeled on the LEED ratings of green buildings, would assign institutions ratings of silver, gold, or platinum based on a calculation that would take the percentage of a college’s undergraduate students who are eligible for Pell Grants, multiply the number by a ratio of credit hours earned to credit hours attempted, and divide it by the institution’s cohort-default rate.

Part of the goal, Mr. Munier said, "is to create a little public embarrassment" for institutions that are not fulfilling their duty to educate needy students. He jokingly called the plan "Craig’s LEED certification on social responsibility."

Mr. Munier acknowledged that the plan "isn’t ready for prime time," saying he had crafted it "on the back of a restaurant napkin" with Eileen O’Leary, director of financial aid at Stonehill College and the association’ incoming chair.

"I’m telling you right now, the numbers are wrong, it doesn’t work," he said. Still, he said, "it gets to a social-responsibility indicator."

He argued that some of the criticism of President Obama’s plan is "a little disingenuous"—driven more by colleges’ concerns about their reputations than any doubts about the metrics the plan may use.

"If the pushback is because it will expose them" as poor performers, Mr. Munier said, "that’s wrong."

Another panelist at the session, Marcus D. Szymanoski, manager of regulatory affairs at DeVry University, said he "loved the LEED idea" but argued against a composite score. A better approach, he said, would be multiple metrics that would recognize the varying priorities of students.

Such transparency, he said, would allow students "to make their own value judgment."

The president’s rating plan was originally due out in the spring, but it has been delayed until the fall. On Sunday a top official in the Office of Federal Student Aid cast doubt on even that timeline, saying it might not be done by the end of the year.

"I’m not sure that will hold," Jeff Baker, the office’s policy director, told attendees at a town hall-style meeting here at the conference.