Obama’s Rating System for Colleges Advances, Officials Balk

A "radical new effort" being called for by President Barack Obama has rattled college and university administrators in a major way. Michael D. Shear reporting for The New York Times says that the President wants a rating system for colleges and universities.

Obama believes that American institutions of higher learning, which combine to receive $150 billion a year in federal loans and grants, are going to have to prove themselves worthy. He and his aides say that while tuition is going up at many schools, graduation rates are going down, and students are accruing enormous debt in hopes of getting high-paying jobs that are just not there.

"Applying a sledgehammer to the whole system isn't going to work," said Robert G. Templin Jr., the president of Northern Virginia Community College. "They think their vision of higher education is the only one." Many college leaders accuse the president of grasping for a simplistic solution to what they call a crisis of soaring tuition.

The rating system would include:

  • Graduation numbers
  • Amount of debt students accumulate
  • How much graduates earn

The ratings would be used to decide how much money the school would be allocated in student grants and loans. College presidents say that this plan would punish students whose majors do not lead to high-paying jobs (theater, education, art).

They added that minority students and low-income students often come to college with weak academic backgrounds which would rank them low and would then affect the groups that the president wants to assist.

"He is not interested in driving anybody out of business, unless they are poorly serving the American people," said Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. "In which case, I think he's probably pretty comfortable with that."

Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York system, is on board with the president. Zimpher says she is not against the government focusing on student access to college and their graduation numbers

She, like the college presidents who expressed an opinion, stated that data on graduation rates and postgraduate earning levels were incomplete at many colleges and would have to be brought up to date.

Rebecca Schulman, education columnist for Slate, is also a professor, and she is in agreement with Obama. Although she believes that the proposal has many flaws, she also is of the opinion that the flaws can be fixed.

Her observation is that the higher education system "dangerously approaches a racket". She says that college and university presidents rake in millions of dollars while the students are being burdened with tremendous debt.

Schulman also criticizes the growing trend that colleges have adopted of hiring adjunct (part-time) professors, in some cases making up two-thirds of the faculty. She adds these suggested upgrades to the proposal:

  • Tying aid to schools not to salaries, but earnings relative to the field and the region of the country.
  • Do not tie aid to attrition rates. This will cause professors to pass everyone so as not to lose funding.
  • Tie a school's "value" rating to the number of full-time, salaried faculty.

There is no argument against the fact that tuition costs are beginning to be out of reach for lower and middle class families, says Tim Louis Macaluso, columnist for the Rochester City Newspaper:

Almost no one disputes that a college degree is important to a young person's future; but at what cost?

06 2, 2014
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