President Barack Obama’s idea to have the federal government rank colleges has stirred up debate across higher education and throughout Capitol Hill, but it’s not exactly new.
More than a century ago, the government placed schools into four classes based on how prepared students were for graduate school.
GW, which U.S. News and World Report has ranked the 52nd best in the country and considers a more selective university, was named a Class II university in 1911, alongside Georgetown, New York and Boston universities. GW now considers all three peer institutions.
Turns out many of the colleges that beat out GW back then still surpass it in rankings now. Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Lehigh universities were all considered Class I colleges in the early 1900s and are consistently ranked above GW today.
The University has pulled ahead of some schools that outranked it 100 years ago though, such as the University of Vermont, Purdue University and Lake Forest College.
A graduate from a Class II institution would likely require “somewhat more than one year’s graduate work,” to earn a master’s degree from a strong graduate school, according to the government’s explanation.
Obama’s plan to rank colleges based on how well they improve their accessibility and affordability for lower-income applicants, among other factors, has faced opposition from university presidents, who have argued they could lose control over their schools’ priorities.
The White House hopes to tie federal financial aid allocations to the ratings, which means schools that the government considers lower-quality might not receive as much money.
Back in 1911, the Association of American Universities asked the precursor of the Department of Education to compile a ratings system. A former college president and top official in the U.S. Bureau of Education rated schools by reviewing students’ transcripts and interviewing university administrators.
Many college presidents, who mostly represented schools placed in lower classes, complained so fiercely about the system that President William Howard Taft issued an executive order forbidding the department from distributing the list, Vox reported this week.
The Department of Education is expected to release its latest template for college rankings by the end of this year.