Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Comment on Susan Dynarski's Op Ed Essay in the NY Times on President Obama's Proposed Federal College Rating System

Susan Dynarski contributed an op ed essay in a recent issue of the New York Times on President Obama's proposed college rating system.  As Ms. Dynarski explained, the President's intent is to rein in college costs.

Ms. Dynarski said up front that she does not think the President's proposal will help bring spiralling tuition costs under control--at least for the public colleges. She urged President Obama to slow down the initiative to put a college rating system in place in order to get it right.

I will go further and say that the President's college rating plan will do nothing to control college costs. Instead, it will simply add another layer of bureaucracy to the nation's higher education sector, which is already burdened with red tape created by efforts to comply with FERPA, the Clery Act, Title IX, the federal student aid program, and a blizzard of "Dear Colleague" letters issued by the Department of Education.

Without a doubt, the nation's elite schools will do just fine under any rating system that President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are likely to devise; they have large endowment funds, lobbyists, and lawyers that will make sure they come out on top.  Don't worry about Harvard, Stanford, or Yale.

The HBCUs will also do all right under any rating system that the Obama administration designs; nobody wants to increase pressure on them. And, judging by their past success in fending off effective federal oversight, most of the for-profits will also manage to thrive under any new college rating system that is likely to be put in place.

But, as Ms. Dynarski pointed out, the new rating system will probably hurt the private, nonprofit colleges most, particularly the non-selective nonprofits that do not have large endowments.  Many may be forced to close their doors. She is right to warn that these colleges "will do everything they can to avoid this, including lobbying to tweak the ratings."

I hope President Obama and Secretary Duncan heed Ms. Dynarski's advice and put their college-rating system on the back burner.  If Obama and Duncan want to bring costs under control, they should continue putting the heat on the for-profit college sector, where tuition costs are highest. In my view, the for-profits should be kicked out of the federal student-aid program, which would cause most of them to be shut down. The federal aid money that now goes to the for-profits receive--about $35 billion per year-should be invested in low-cost community colleges.


References

Dynarski, Susan. Why Federal College Ratings Won't Rein in Tuition. New York Times, September 20, 2014. Accessible at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/21/upshot/why-federal-college-ratings-wont-rein-in-tuition.html

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