President Barack Obama announced a plan Thursday to deploy a program that rewards or punishes American colleges and universities based on how they’re rated under a new Federal assessment system his Administration is devising.
The ambitious plan, which is founded on metrics that will rate colleges based not on academic merit but on the degree to which they extend financial incentives to needy applicants, is supposed to go online in time for the start of the 2015-2016 academic year. The President called on Congress to support him in crafting legislation to implement his plan, which will require tying Federal student aid to colleges’ compliance under the new rating scheme.
The new plan will monitor graduation rates, postgraduate employment, and admissions practices that ensure the poor can get into school and receive a degree – or, as the President said, “how successful colleges are at enrolling and graduating students who are on Pell Grants.”
Critics are already warning that the scheme appears to reward colleges that intentionally weight their admissions processes toward low-income students, regardless of their academic potential, while punishing those that selectively admit students based chiefly on their capacity to succeed at rigorous academic work.
From Obama’s speech, given Thursday at the University of Buffalo (H/T: ShallowNation):
My plan comes down to three main goals.
First, we are going to start rating colleges, not just by which college is the most selective, not just by which college is the most expensive, not by which college has the nicest facilities. You can get all that on the existing rating systems. What we want to do is rate them on who is offering the best value so that students and taxpayers get a better bang for their buck.
Number two, we’re going to jump start new competition between colleges, not just on the field or on the court, but in terms of innovation that encourages affordability and encourages student success and doesn’t sacrifice educational quality.
And the third is we are going to make sure if you have to take on debt to earn your college degree that you have ways to manage and afford it.
…I am directing Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education, to lead an effort to develop a new rating system for America’s colleges before the 2015 college year. Right now, private rankings, like the U.S. News and World Report, puts out each year their rankings — and it encourages a lot of colleges to focus on ways to… “How do we game the numbers?” and you know it actually rewards them, in some cases, for raising costs. I think we should rate colleges based on opportunity. Are they helping students from all kinds of backgrounds succeed? And on outcomes – on their value to students and parents.
So that means metrics like: how much debt does the average student leave with? How easy is it to pay off? How many students graduate on time? How well do those graduates do in the work force? Because the answers will help parents and students figure out how much value a college truly offers.
And our ratings will also measure how successful colleges are at enrolling and graduating students who are on Pell Grants. And, it will be my firm principle that our ratings have to be carefully designed to increase, not decrease, the opportunities for higher education for students who face economic or other disadvantages.
The President also said that State legislatures “are going to have to step up” to support their public universities.
“They can’t just keep cutting support for public colleges and universities. That’s just the truth. Colleges are not going to be able to just keep on increasing tuition year after year, and then passing it on to students and families and taxpayers. Our economy can’t afford the trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, much of which may not get repaid because students don’t have the capacity to pay it.”
If the State schools cooperate, while simultaneously accepting the new yoke of a Federal “opportunity” ratings metric, Obama promised to reward them.
“We are going to deliver on a promise we made last year, which is colleges that keep their tuition down and are providing high-quality education are the ones that are going to see their taxpayer funding go up,” he said. “And we’re also going to encourage states to follow the same principle.”