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August 22, 2013 1:10 PM Obama’s Plan For Evaluating College’s “Bang for the Buck”

By Ed Kilgore

So this segment of President Obama’s speech today on college affordability is pretty exciting news for those of us at Washington Monthly, which has long pioneered ranking of colleges based on what they produce, not just entering student SAT scores or money spent or programs offered. Just last year we refined our college rankings to make “bang for the buck”—and particularly a “cost-adjusted graduation rate”—an important ingredient.

Now it seems the federal government will move in the same direction:

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As you can read in this fact sheet from the administration, the college rankings that the President is asking the Department of Education to develop before 2015 (with student aid tied to these rankings by 2018) focused on the same sort of criteria as WaMo’s “bang for the buck” evaluations:

*Access, such as percentage of students receiving Pell Grants;
* Affordability, such as average tuition, scholarships and loan debt; and
* Outcomes, such as graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of college graduates.

As Jonathan Chait notes:

The most controversial element of Obama’s proposal is to create a metric measuring which colleges provide the best value. This has been a longtime goal of higher education reformers — the Washington Monthly, for instance, has published its own college rankings. Under Obama’s proposal, the U.S. Department of Education would craft such a measure by 2014 and then, after trying it out to ensure it works well enough, begin using it to prorate federal tuition subsidies by 2018. That is, students could get more generous loans for the most effective schools, and less-generous loans for the least effective. 2018 is far enough in the future that it might as well be “eventually,” but it matters in the sense that Obama is laying down a marker that a successor president can choose to hit if the first stage goes off as planned.

To see how the new rankings might look, you can wait until next year or the year after, or check out WaMo’s College Guide from last year (or very soon, from this year). And aside from new “bang for the buck” data, we’ll have more commentary on Obama’s college affordability proposals here at PA and at our College Guide blog.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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