Last year, President Obama announced that he would create a plan to measure colleges based on access, affordability, and student outcome. On Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared before a Senate subcommittee to discuss the education budget. Mr. Duncan states the initiative will move forward with or without the requested 10 million dollars, although the money would be beneficial.
Ignoring that the administration is requesting 10 million dollars they do not need, Congress should not fund the college rating plan because it will not fix the problem of college affordability. A recent study done by the American Council on Education states the President’s plan is “well-intentioned but poorly devised.” The rating plan is intended to help low-income students, but they will likely be the most ill-served. Obama’s ratings are expected to be based off of data that will misrepresent community colleges and four-year comprehensive institutions. The efforts of institutions that largely serve low-income students will be ignored and students will have access to misleading information.
More so, college rankings do little good for institutions of higher education. Although the Obama administration has gone through exhaustive efforts to differentiate ranks and ratings, they are both numbers universities can manipulate. Over the past three years, I have watched my institution manufacture numbers and tout statistics in order to climb one rank in U.S. News and World Report. As my school brags about admission rates, diversity, and test scores, the students still experience a lack of commitment and investment by the university. The numbers look good, but students have reaped little benefit from manipulated numbers and a U.S. News and World Report ranking of 12 as opposed to 13. It is only a matter of time before universities find a way to manipulate their affordability, access, and outcome to help themselves and not the students they allegedly serve.
The rating plan also ignores that students, especially low-income, don’t actually care about college ratings/rankings. Low-income students are more likely to choose colleges close to home or based on financial aid packages. We need to be directly helping low income students access higher education—not giving money to institutions that achieve a good rank (based on inaccurate data) and hoping they will put the federal money towards improving affordability. The rating plan does not address the root of the actual problem we face.
Congress should not give the Department of Education the 10 million dollars it may or may not need. Obama’s college rating plan will not help low-income students, but instead, perpetuate universities to obsess over rates and rankings. College affordability is an amazingly important issue that greatly affects students. We need to change, but Obama’s plan is not the place to start.