President Obama’s plan to rate colleges is big on hopes and short on details, but the Department of Education hopes to fill in some of those gaps during a series of public forums, beginning today.

The plan, announced in late August, aims to make college affordable by rating institutions based on quality, low-income student enrollment, and cost. And it could help low-income students and students of color choose the right school, as Ed Trust’s Michael Dannenberg has pointed out. But the criteria for these ratings must be thoughtfully identified and defined to provide the best, most practical information for students. College Results Online does this by tallying graduation rates, transfer rates, and the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants at each college; and it also allows students and families to see how those rates compare with other colleges with similar demographics and characteristics. It doesn’t rank schools, but it allows students to identify institutions that best serve students like themselves. It’s just as Obama’s plan should play out.

The Department of Education’s forums are open to the public, and transcripts will be provided online after each one. (If you want to speak, sign up three days in advance, or you can submit your feedback via email.) If you attend today – or any day – let us know how it went.

  • Today: California State University at Dominguez Hills, Los Angeles, Calif.;
  • Nov. 13: George Mason University, Arlington, Va.;
  • Nov. 15: University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa; and
  • Nov. 21: Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La.