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U.S. Department of Education Cites Lehigh University as Potential Model for College-Rating System

August 2013, Washington, D.C. - U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks prior to signing the bipartisan bill to cut student loan interest rates.

The U.S. Department of Education is asking publicly for help from colleges, parents and students on how it should design a standardized college-rating system. The institution that has caught their eye first is Lehigh University.

In articles posted online this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Education Dept. Seeks Input on Setting Up College-Rating System) and Inside Higher Education (Obama Administration Seeks Input on How to Develop Ratings),  Lehigh was the only university mentioned by name as providing a report on student outcomes to the depth and degree that could serve as a model for the national report.

The Education Department made its official request for public input in the Dec. 17 edition of the Federal Register, specifically asking for input on which measures to rate, how they should be weighed, and how to present the information to consumers. The request follows the Obama Administration’s August 2013 call for a ratings system that tracked college access, affordability, and outcomes. These governmental initiatives follow a decade in which the public has increasingly questioned the value of higher education, with unemployment high and student debt at an all-time high.

In the Chronicle article, Jeff Appel, the Deputy Undersecretary at the Education Department, said the department was “…impressed by Lehigh University’s approach to reporting student outcomes.” Lehigh's Career Services office publishes job-placement rates by college, along with lists of the top employers, starting salaries, and breakdowns on how graduating students had found their jobs.

According to the article, Appel was asked if the Lehigh data was "the beginnings of a model," to which he responded: "It is pretty good. It highlights a lot of what the president wants."

For 30 years, Lehigh has accurately collected student outcome data from its alumni, often getting responses from as much as 90 percent of graduates. The standard response rate is 60-65 percent. This data has long been publicly available on the Lehigh website. Print copies are sent to high schools and universities nationwide, and a 4”-thick binder detailing the success of our graduates is distributed across campus to all departments.

Lori Kennedy, director of Career Services, says that Lehigh’s transparent approach to student outcomes demonstrates a tradition of accountability. “Lehigh has been progressive about collecting and reporting since the 1980s the kind of student data that consumers—and the federal government—are now becoming interested in,” she said.

“I believe we find ourselves ahead of our higher ed peers because we’ve long believed that student outcome  statistics were a good indicator of how well the institution was performing its duty to prepare students for the future,” said Kennedy. “It is only recently that we are seeing the National Association of Colleges and Employers trying to standardize these surveys in response to public and governmental concerns. “

In January the Education Department will convene a group of experts to help it choose the system's metrics and their weights. A draft plan for the system is due in the spring. Meanwhile, Lehigh will continue to focus its efforts on preparing students for careers and providing the type of student outcome data that the nation may soon find is the right way to select the right college.

Story by Jordan Reese

Posted on Friday, December 20, 2013

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