Aoun provides guidance on proposed college rating system


Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun recently offered guidance to the U.S. Department of Education as it develops a new higher education evaluation system. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

As the fed­eral gov­ern­ment refines its plans for a new higher edu­ca­tion eval­u­a­tion system, North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun offered his guid­ance in a letter to the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion on how to make the ranking system ben­e­fi­cial for col­leges, stu­dents, and families.

In the letter, addressed to Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Duncan, Aoun encour­aged the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion to con­sider the work col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties are doing to pre­pare stu­dents for long-​​term career suc­cess and include in the ranking met­rics such as the per­centage of alumni employed or enrolled in an advance degree pro­gram six months after graduation.

“If we are to help stu­dents and fam­i­lies dis­tin­guish value and reduce col­lege costs, we need to pro­vide stu­dents with infor­ma­tion not only about whether they can afford to attend an insti­tu­tion, but also how likely they are—once enrolled—to com­plete their degree and secure post­grad­uate employ­ment,” Aoun wrote.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s pro­posed Post­sec­ondary Insti­tu­tion Rating System, which could be in place by the 2015–16 aca­d­emic year, aims to assess higher edu­ca­tion insti­tu­tions’ value. And pending Con­gress’ approval, future fed­eral aid could be tied to how col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties per­form in the rankings.

North­eastern strives to be a leader in preparing stu­dents for suc­cess after col­lege through its expe­ri­en­tial learning model and specif­i­cally coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion. Through co-​​op, stu­dents alter­nate between class­room work and real-​​world work expe­ri­ence. This allows stu­dents to gain sig­nif­i­cant expe­ri­ence that hiring employers seek in candidates.

Aoun noted, in his letter, Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to working with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to make col­lege more acces­sible to stu­dents, while pro­moting inno­va­tion and improving higher edu­ca­tion out­comes. He added that North­eastern exten­sively sur­veys its alumni on career out­comes and uses those results to deter­mine best prac­tices for pro­viding career-​​aligned expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­ni­ties to students.

In fact, 90 per­cent of North­eastern grad­u­ates are employed full time or enrolled in grad­uate school within nine months of grad­u­a­tion. More impor­tantly, 87 per­cent of 2012 grad­u­ates who are employed full time are doing work related to their major. And under­scoring the value of expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­ni­ties before grad­u­a­tion, 51 per­cent of 2012 grad­u­ates received a job offer from a pre­vious co-​​op employer.

Aoun’s sug­ges­tions were high­lighted in a recent Inside Higher Ed article detailing var­ious higher edu­ca­tion leaders’ opin­ions on the pro­posed new ranking system.

Aoun’s letter under­scores his lead­er­ship on addressing higher education’s most crit­ical issues. He recently com­pleted a one-​​year term as board chair of the Amer­ican Council on Edu­ca­tion, and cur­rently serves on an aca­d­emic advi­sory council that exam­ines how uni­ver­si­ties can con­tribute to America’s national secu­rity efforts.

In Jan­uary, he attended a higher edu­ca­tion summit at the White House that focused on making col­lege more acces­sible and afford­able for eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents. At the summit, Aoun announced new plans by North­eastern to help eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged and first gen­er­a­tion stu­dents grad­uate, including new full-​​tuition schol­ar­ships and a new finan­cial lit­eracy edu­ca­tion program.

As an insti­tu­tion, North­eastern has made great strides to enhance higher edu­ca­tion access and the suc­cess of stu­dents. This year North­eastern is investing $204 mil­lion in insti­tu­tional grant aid. It’s the largest invest­ment in the university’s his­tory and this is the sixth straight year North­eastern has increased finan­cial aid at double the rate of tuition and fees.

In his letter, Aoun cau­tioned against a rating system in which per­for­mance is pared down to a single overall grade because it would make “sev­eral crit­ical value met­rics meaningless.”

“Above all,” he added, “the Department’s rat­ings should take into con­sid­er­a­tion the spe­cific mis­sion of the many dif­ferent types of insti­tu­tions serving tra­di­tional and non-traditional stu­dents in order to reflect and make mean­ingful the broad diver­sity of the var­ious sectors.”