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The U.S. scratches its proposed college ratings

While many players in the higher-ed niche rate and rank colleges and universities, the federal government signaled on Thursday that it was pulling the plug on its plan to do so.

Nearly two years ago, President Obama proposed an ambitious plan to rate more than 5,000 colleges and universities based on such key measurements as their costs, graduation rates, graduates' workplace earnings and their student debt.

From the beginning, however, the blowback from the higher-ed industry had been tremendous for a massive ratings system that would have been, even without opposition, a daunting endeavor.

The stakes were tremendous because the Obama administration, which pumps $150 billion into federal student aid each year, wanted to dole out federal assistance based on the ratings. The aim of the federal initiative was to force colleges to get serious about holding down costs and graduating more students because federal aid would be tied to the value a school provides.

In a blog post published today on its website, the U.S. Department of Education essentially announced its retreat.

That doesn't mean its officials are giving up entirely. While they've shelved the ratings plans, the department announced that it was creating a consumer website that will include more information than currently available to help families with teenagers evaluate schools.

The department plans to release the new tools later this summer that will allow consumers to "reach their own conclusions about a college's value." It's anticipated that the new resource will include more information than the federal College Scorecard, which provides users with data on a school's average net price, graduation rate, loan default rate and median borrowing.

In the department's blog post, Jamienne Studley, the deputy under secretary and acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education, had this to say about the new direction:

"Through our research and our conversations with the field, we have found that the needs of students are very diverse and the criteria they use to choose a college vary widely. By providing a wealth of data -- including many important metrics that have not been published before -- students and families can make informed comparisons and choices based on the criteria most important to them."
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