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May 27, 2014 10:34 AM Administration “Not Listening” To Advice To “Not Do” College Ratings

By Ed Kilgore

There’s been a lot of pushback from college administrators against the Obama administration’s announced plan to develop a new set of ratings for colleges (linked to eligibility for some student aid resources) designed to measure the value they provide to students and to society in exchange for the costs they impose. The New York Times’ Michael Shear writes up their tale of woe:

Mr. Obama and his aides say colleges and universities that receive a total of $150 billion each year in federal loans and grants must prove they are worth it. The problem is acute, they insist: At too many schools, tuition is going up, graduation rates are going down, and students are leaving with enormous debt and little hope of high-paying jobs.
The idea that the government would try to rate the schools has rattled the entire higher education system, from elite private institutions to large state universities to community colleges.

At least part of the angst from colleges, of course, is that the putative rating system would shift the emphasis from inputs to outcomes, and from factors they have significant control over (allocation of resources, faculty-to-student ratios, selectivity of admissions criteria) to those they don’t (i.e., post-graduate student earnings). Just as importantly, the administration is trying to place “affordability” front and center in how we think about the reputation of colleges, and that’s heretical in the extreme.

It’s unclear from Shear’s article the extent to which college presidents differ in their willingness to work with the Obama administration on the new ratings system; some appear to have adopted a “just say no to new ratings” posture. For example, Baylor University president Ken Starr is quoted as saying: “We think that entire approach is quite wrongheaded.” If rejecting that “advice” is what college poohbahs mean in complaining that the administration isn’t “listening” to them, then they deserve their frustration, richly.

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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