Education Department Plans to Publish List of Low-Performing Programs

“Nearly a decade after the Obama administration broached the idea of rating colleges and universities, the Biden administration is ready to take another crack at the historically fraught concept.

This time around, the administration is planning to publish a list of programs that are considered to have a low financial value to students and taxpayers. But first the department must decide how to determine which programs have low financial value—a question that’s been the subject of much research but no clear consensus.

The department’s request for information, which was released this week and closes Feb. 10, seeks input on the measures and metrics that should be used to build the list, what data should be collected to assess a program’s nonfinancial value, the structure of the list and how to share the list once it’s created.

This latest effort will show how the accountability landscape has changed, if at all, since the rating idea was first broached, which morphed into the College Scorecard. (The Obama administration didn’t end up rating institutions after opposition from higher education groups and others.) Advocates and researchers said the list would be helpful and a good start in highlighting programs that don’t serve students well, though they acknowledge the challenge ahead for the department to define a program’s financial value.

Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, managing director of policy and research at Higher Learning Advocates, a bipartisan nonprofit that works to improve outcomes for students, said the federal government is lagging behind state leaders, who already have been talking about how to define a high-quality postsecondary program.

‘Students, even if they go to liberal arts colleges, are thinking about future employment more often than I think some institutions would care to admit,’ she said. ‘There has to be a nuanced approach, but we can’t continue to avoid a discussion about student earnings coming out of particular programs. We’ve been trying to avoid this now for over a decade … We can’t continue to punt this to the federal level.’”

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