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Sep 23, 2013 02:12 PM EDT

Arne Duncan Backs Up Obama's College Rating System Proposal at Time Education Summit

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U.S. Education Department (ED) secretary Arne Duncan reiterated the benefits of the President's proposal for a college rating system at Time's Education Summit in New York City.

Duncan spoke Friday on the second day of the conference and criticized those who have been critical of President Barack Obama's plan to make college more affordable. Duncan reinforced the plan's central idea in creating a rating system to determine which school are more deserving of federal funding.

"A generation ago, we led the world in college graduation rates," Duncan said, "now we are 12."

Gov. Mary Fallin, of Oklahoma, said in a panel discussion that 40 percent of jobs in America only require a high school diploma and those jobs only pay about $25,000 per year.

The college rating system was developed to hold schools accountable and to help families choose a school that will provide best for their needs academically and financially. Ideally, the system will also give families their best value for their money and their best return on investment.

Obama summed up the rating system to a crowd at the University of New York at Buffalo on a two-day bus tour just after the release of the proposal.

"Colleges that keep their tuition down and are providing high quality education are the ones that are going to see their tax payer funding go up," he said. "It is time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results."

The rating system has yet to be developed, but the ED expects to have a draft within a year and a final version by Dec. 2014. The goal for the rating system is to have it implemented for the 2015 academic year and used to commission federal aid dollars by 2018.

The rating system would reward the higher-ranked schools with more taxpayer dollars to be used for federal student aid. The more money schools can give to students in need, the less they have to borrow and take out of pocket.

Duncan said the system will grade schools on access, percentage of students receiving a Pell grant and affordability. These will be pitted against graduation rates, graduate earnings and number of graduates who earn additional degrees.

The proposal has been met with some adversity from college leaders and higher education groups.

Duncan called criticism against the President's higher education reform plan "premature and more than a little silly."

Terry W. Hartle, American Council on Education senior vice president for government and public affairs, said the rating system will have "an obligation to have perfect data" in order to link it to federal money.

Duncan presumably referred to Hartle as "that lobbyist" and said he was "starting from the wrong premise."

Duncan said the rating system would weigh improvements at various schools and would only compare colleges with "similar mission" to avoid comparing "apples to oranges."

"Believe me," said Duncan, "I'm aware if this is not done well, the college rating system could create unintended consequences. We are beginning this system with a sense of humility."

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