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Originally published: 2014-07-05 14:08:13
Last modified: 2014-07-05 14:08:55

College rating system tied to financial aid

by Anna Oakes

The new federal college rating system of universities will be available to the public in about six months, outgoing Chancellor Ken Peacock told the Appalachian State University board of trustees at its June meeting.

President Barack Obama announced the new system in August 2013, calling it an effort to combat rising college costs and to make college affordable for American families. The rating system will measure the performance of institutions with such measures as access, such as the percentage of students receiving Pell grants; affordability, such as average tuition, scholarships and loan debt; and outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings and advanced degrees of graduates, according to the White House.

Once the system is established, the federal government will award financial aid dollars to institutions based on their ratings instead of the number of students they enroll.

Critics said the new system could cause universities to cherry-pick the smartest and wealthiest of student applicants, but administration officials said they were mindful of that risk and would counter it by awarding more points to colleges that enroll students with need-based awards, according to media reports.

Peacock told the trustees that he disliked ranking systems, but that after a recent trip to Washington, he felt ASU would fare well in the new system.

"We're going to be in there. We're going to be at the top of this thing," Peacock said.

The White House said the new rating system would stop short of ranking colleges, however.

Peacock said colleges have asked for the chance to review the ratings, with a draft expected in about three months and the ratings to be publicized in six. The Obama administration said last year that it would work to publish the new system before the 2015 school year.

ASU is already included in the administration's College Scorecard, a snapshot of costs, graduation rates, loan default rates and borrowing amounts at the nation's universities.

The figures published by the White House show that ASU's average costs for undergraduate in-state students is $8,874 per year, which is categorized as "low." Its six-year graduation rate of 66.2 percent is in the "high" category, while the loan default rate for ASU students is 3.6 percent, lower than the 14.7 percent national average. Families typically borrow $19,125 in federal loans for ASU students, with monthly payments during 10 years at about $220.09 per month -- in the "medium" category nationwide, it said.

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