Department of Education officials met with campus leaders last year to discuss the ratings system, and that’s when presidents of historically black institutions raised their concerns. Ivory Toldson, deputy director of the White House Initiative on historically black colleges and universities, says although the concerns are legitimate, he still believes in the overall premise of a ratings system.
"The ratings system, as a college scorecard, is meant to be consumer driven. It’s meant to help parents and students find the institution that best fits them," he said. "And the intention is for the system to evolve."
Despite the significant role that historically black institutions play in higher education for African Americans, the latest proposal is the most recent obstacle in a long trajectory of policies that have undermined the institutions. In fact, many of the institutions are still reeling from the Department of Education’s unannounced changes to the lending requirements for its only parent-issued loan program in 2011. The tightened credit standards have led to significant, disproportionate declines in enrollment at these campuses: An estimated 28,000 students were denied loans in 2012, resulting in a collective loss of about $155 million in tuition revenue, a 35-percent reduction, according to the United Negro College Fund.
In an editorial for The Hill, Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, was critical of the rating plan’s lack of consideration for race. "Given the discontent in the nation around issues of race, the rapidly changing demographics of the country and the fact that most of our ability to meet President Obama's college completion goals is dependent on educating more people of color, the omission of a discussion of, and credit for, educating a diverse student body is a glaring oversight," Gasman wrote.
Another editorial in the Washington Times pointed out that a ratings system that privileges high earnings for graduates would punish religious colleges and other universities whose graduates disproportionately take jobs in the nonprofit and public sectors. The system also fails to account for the persistent employment and earning gaps between black and white graduates.
Not all leaders in the black college community share this trepidation, however. Others believe it could be a benefit to the institutions and their students—as long as it’s carefully engineered.
"I think the worst mistake that HBCUs can make is to see this as a threat rather than an opportunity," said John S. Wilson, the president of Morehouse College and former director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Johnny C. Taylor, the president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, agrees.
"African American students, students from low-income families are often first-generation consumers of higher education and don't always understand all the dynamics. Any system that gives us more data to make informed decisions is a good thing," Taylor said. "As long as the federal government makes like comparisons it can only be a benefit to HBCUs, but the notion that no information is better than imperfect information is flawed."