There’s no doubt that the burden of student loan debt is holding back the financial progress of a whole generation of young people. As inspiring as it is to hear the federal government is attempting to “empower consumers with fresh information [and] pressure colleges to keep costs down,” Obama’s College Rating Plan has raised some controversy. Per The Chronicle of Higher Education’s articles titled Obama Plan to Tie Student Aid to College Ratings Draws Mixed Reviews and 4 Key Questions Experts Are Asking About Obama’s College-Ratings Plan, the plan requires more consideration to avoid unintended consequences.
The Obama administration is proposing to create a ratings system for colleges based on “measures of access, affordability, and student outcomes, and to allocate [federal] aid based on those ratings” in time for the 2015 academic year. Per Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, “If you want to condition the receipt of student aid on this information, you have an obligation to have perfect data.” This is of absolute significance as some data proposed to be used by the administration is inaccurate, missing, or incomplete.
Unfortunately, rating systems used by the Education Department’s College Scorecard are currently labeling colleges with inaccurate graduation rates as these rates “include only first-time, full-time students.” In addition, considering the earning of college graduates as a measure to rate colleges is of concern because this data may unfairly penalize small regional institutions whose graduates serve their communities with low paying salaries. Community colleges are particularly concerned because they have higher transfer rates than graduation rates since these schools inherently function as “vehicles for students to transfer to four-year colleges.” These are all viable concerns and one can only hope a compromise between providing consumer-friendly information and holding institutions accountable can be agreed upon.
Transparency in Assessment holds significant importance for all its stakeholders (see our Higher Education Assessment’s post, titled Culture of Assessment: Are We There Yet?). Certain levels of transparency must exist for all prospective students to make informed decisions on selecting an affordable institution. An investment in the next generation of higher education is long overdue. Per President Obama, it is “time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results, and reward schools that deliver for American students and our future.”
Both advocates and opponents of the College Ratings plan realize the importance of cautiously selecting measures to base its ratings on. Even if the plan to tie student aid to college ratings does not come into fruition, it is still “a powerful incentive for institutions to pay attention to outcomes.” In order to improve the health of the US economy and improve the well-being of the current generation dealing with student loan debt, something must be done to ensure the infrastructure of higher education improves.