The Obama administration is working on an ambitious plan that will rank—and, likely, rankle—colleges and universities on measures like tuition, earnings of graduates, graduation rates and other real-world markers in an effort to bring skyrocketing costs back to Earth.
President Barack Obama criticized “the soaring cost of higher education” in a speech Thursday at the State University of New York, Buffalo, where students have been checking in at dorms for the school year.
“First we’re going to start rating colleges not just by which college is the most selective, not just by which college is the most expensive, not just by which college has the nicest facilities—you can get all of that on the existing rating systems. What we want to do is rate them on who’s offering the best value so students and taxpayers get a bigger bang for their buck,” the president said to the applause of students.
The new ratings are expected to be ready in time for the 2015 college year.
The plan intends to jumpstart competition between schools by encouraging innovation in affordability, student success and educational quality.
American Council on Education President Molly Corbett Broad called Obama’s proposal “sweeping” and “thoughtful,” but stopped short of endorsing it on behalf of the colleges and universities the group represents.
Perhaps the most famous college rankings are the hotly awaited “Best Colleges” list published in the U.S. News and World Report’s annual college issue, but Obama criticized those lists because in some instances they actually reward colleges with better rankings for raising costs.
Obama said some of the metrics the new rankings will use include:
• How much debt does the average student leave with?
• How easy it is to pay off?
• How many students graduate on time?
• How well do those graduates do in the workforce?
The average tuition at a public four-year college has gone up more than 250 percent in the last three decades, Obama said, noting that a typical family’s income has only gone up 16 percent in that time period.
Broad pledged to explore the many details of the plan in coming weeks, but sounded an early warning that the plan’s intent to tie receipt of financial aid to academic performance “could have a profoundly negative impact” on students.
Obama said Thursday that students who receive federal financial aid will have to complete their courses before receiving grants for their next semester, but the system won’t be so rigid as to undermine success.
“We’ll make sure to build in flexibility so we’re not penalizing disadvantaged students, or students who are holding down jobs to pay for school. Things happen,” Obama said.