Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Possible rating system sends chills through higher ed

Posted By on Wed, May 28, 2014 at 10:37 AM

It’s hard to know what to think about President Obama’s plan to rate higher education institutions. The rating system would inject the federal government into an accountability role for about 7,000 colleges and universities. The feds would evaluate tuition costs and graduation rates, among other factors.

On one hand, the federal government and ultimately taxpayers underwrite somewhere between $100 billion and $150 billion annually in the form of grants and loans. And more money goes to universities for research projects on everything from energy to medicine. It’s not unreasonable to expect some scrutiny. 

But the Obama administration hasn’t exactly been a refreshing tonic on K to 12 education. Race to the Top has largely been an extension of No Child Left Behind. Together they’ve opened the door to viewing education through more of a business lens. It will be a generation or longer before we know the results of these policies, but early indicators aren't promising.

The higher education world is panicking at the idea of increased government accountability. It didn’t help that the Obama administration’s spokesperson said the new rating system would be as easy as rating a kitchen appliance.

But there’s no question that the cost of higher education is outpacing what students from lower and middle income families can afford. And graduating students from just about any college, including the brand name Ivy League institutions, with $70,000 to $100,000 of debt or more is unconscionable, and a crisis. Shedding more light on student outcomes and affordability may at least give students more information to weigh their options.

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

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