black college grads

*WASHINGTON  – Today, the U.S. Department of Education released a far-reaching, controversial and complex framework for rating over 4,000 degree-granting colleges and universities in America, including the 37 UNCF-member historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

UNCF is pleased that the Obama Administration is soliciting additional public input, but we are concerned about the implications of a federal ratings system for students and schools.  A poorly designed ratings system will do more harm than good, penalizing both institutions and the students they serve if the ratings are not fair, accurate, and meaningful.

UNCF will evaluate this proposal based on whether it fulfills President Obama’s pledge to create a ratings system which will “increase, not decrease, the opportunities in higher education for students who face economic or other disadvantages.”  Further, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has advised HBCU presidents that the ratings system “will take account of the degree of difficulty that many institutions, including HBCUs, face in educating significant numbers of under-prepared, disadvantaged students.”

Unfortunately, a preliminary review suggests that even after public hearings, substantive feedback from hundreds of organizations, and sixteen months of work to flesh out the details of the ratings system, the Education Department is coming up short on its promises.

Based on our initial review, UNCF has a number of concerns on which we hope to work with the Education Department going forward, including the following issues:

  • Simplicity is important, but not if it misleads students into selecting institutions that will not maximize their chances for success.
  • Some of the proposed metrics could undermine the goal of serving more low-income students.  UNCF applauds the inclusion of metrics aimed at promoting college access for underrepresented students.  But, we question the use of other metrics that could undermine this same goal.  For example, institutional graduation rates are greatly influenced by the selectivity of the institution and socioeconomic characteristics of its students.  Highly selective institutions with relatively few low-income students have high graduation rates.  Without accounting sufficiently for financial and other obstacles that can derail or disrupt the ability of low-income students to complete their education in a timely fashion, raw graduation rates will not provide a valid or reliable assessment of the value provided by institutions.  Controlled comparisons find that HBCUs outperform non-HBCU institutions in retaining and graduating African-American students, after accounting for the socioeconomic status and academic preparation of enrolled students.  None of these important determinants of success are adequately reflected in the ratings metrics announced today.  We appreciate, however, the Department’s willingness to consider how student and institutional characteristics impact outcomes.
  • Loan repayment rates do not define the success of a college and are outside of institutional control.  “Loan performance outcomes” such as cohort default rates being considered under the federal ratings system do not take into account the fact that colleges and universities do not control whether students repay their loans, who receives federal loans, and how much students borrow.  The federal government controls these factors.
  • The initial use of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data will paint an inaccurate picture of HBCUs and many other schools.  Currently, IPEDS data, as acknowledged by the Department, only looks at full-time, first-time undergraduates, and fails to capture those that transfer or stop and start their educational careers at multiple universities, sometimes over long periods of time.  It simply is not fair to anyone in the higher education community to use data that everyone involved in the system knows is inaccurate from the very start.
  • The data collection requirements could be tremendously burdensome to institutions and hard to administer.  Furthermore, many of the metrics are duplicative of one another and other current requirements, and some could be construed as an attempt to impose, through back-door methods, some current department regulations where they do not currently apply.

In the weeks ahead, UNCF, other college access organizations, researchers, and the country’s colleges and universities will carefully examine the ratings proposals put forth by the Obama Administration and make suggestions to improve them.   Even so, educators and policymakers would be better served by spending their time concentrating on the resources and supports that low-income students truly need to achieve better futures.

UNCF will continue to push the Obama Administration and the Congress to dramatically increase investments in the Pell Grant Program, notify students earlier about their eligibility for federal financial aid, reduce the complexity of federal student financial aid programs and process, and expand income-based student loan repayment to all students and parents who borrow federal education loans.

Over our 70-year history, UNCF, the nation’s largest minority education organization, and its member HBCUs have enabled more than 430,000 students to earn college degrees.  UNCF’s 37 member institutions currently enroll more than 50,000 students, most of whom are first-generation, low-income students of color.

About UNCF
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization.  To serve youth, the community and the nation, UNCF supports students’ education and development through scholarships and other programs, strengthens its 37 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness.  UNCF institutions and other historically black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding 20 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees. UNCF administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs. Today, UNCF supports more than 65,000 students at over 900 colleges and universities across the country. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized motto, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”® Learn more at



Joi C. Ridley
[email protected]