Sitting Bull College
Sitting Bull College is a tribally-controlled school in North Dakota.

Federal Government to Rate Tribal Colleges

Tanya H. Lee

The Obama administration recently released for comment its draft framework for rating institutions of higher education as “high performing,” “low performing” or “in the middle.”

Tribal colleges, Department of Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell told ICTMN during a press call, are among those the federal government plans to evaluate according to several measures, including cost, percentage of students receiving financial aid, completion rates, percentage of first-generation college students and student outcomes as measured by short-term employment rates and long-term earnings, transfer rates and graduate school attendance, among other criteria.

The rating system is intended to help colleges and universities improve access and affordability, to provide better information to students and parents choosing a school and to produce data that policymakers and the public can use to hold colleges and universities accountable. The federal government provides $150 billion in financial aid to colleges annually.

President Obama announced the college ratings initiative in 2013 and since then the Department of Education has held more than 160 listening sessions across the country during which more than 9,000 stakeholders—including students; parents; college trustees, presidents and faculty; members of Congress and education researchers—have weighed in, resulting in the draft framework.

Mitchell talked about how tribal colleges would be included in the rating system. “We intend to include in our rating system all institutions that grant four-year degrees, all institutions that grant two-year degrees. We’re excluding short-term certificate programs and graduate and professional schools… So the tribal colleges that fit into those [four-year and two-year] buckets will indeed be included in the rating system.”

In response to ICTMN’s question about how the rating system would take into account the unique mission and demographics of tribal colleges, Mitchell answered, “We understand well the unique mission and circumstances of tribal colleges as well as other institutions that serve a particular population.

“Within the framework, we talk about measuring like institutions to like institutions. In the first instance that means rating four-year colleges together and two-year colleges together. But we’ve asked the field to consider other ways of creating some segmentation that would allow us to do an even finer-grain comparison. We’ve suggested as potential first steps thinking about institutional selectivity, for example, so we would be measuring open-access institutions against open-access institutions… We’re open to looking for suggestions from the field about how to better segment the ratings so that we are not creating impossible comparisons.”

The Department of Education is accepting comments on the draft framework through Feb. 17. Comments may be submitted via an online form at or by email sent to [email protected].

Read a summary of the draft framework here.

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