ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION: Ratings roulette: Proposed federal system threatens U.S. higher education

Career College Central Summary:

  • Ed L. Schrader is president of Brenau University and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
  • In this essay, he explains why he opposes a proposed federal rating system for colleges and universities.
  • By Ed L. Schrader
  • An eerie quiet in recent weeks seems to have enveloped the proposal – floated by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration – to saddle colleges and universities with an unworkable federal college ratings system.
  • This new system presumably addresses the needs of the higher education “consumer” by assigning and publishing grades of two- and four-year institutions based on access, affordability and outcomes.
  • In the minds of its creators, the program grants the federal government an arsenal of sticks and carrots for prodding schools to accomplish the higher education Holy Grail trifecta: 1. greater accessibility for at-risk students, 2. tamping down tuition costs, 3. better outcomes. The success measurements are primarily in terms of reduced dropout rates and increased graduates’ incomes.
  • All of that sounds great. However, if implemented, the program with its one-size-fits-all measurement could seal the fates of many smaller schools that deliver invaluable services to their students and communities.
  • My concern now is the silence surrounding this issue. We in the higher education community have been debating this federal government ratings proposal among ourselves and in public for more than a year now. Procedurally, the administration says it is still committed to implementing the program in the next fiscal year, which means it needs to begin right away, but another development could overshadow the implementation.
  • U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate education committee, is now pushing forward with a comprehensive measure to overhaul the way the federal government handles all aspects of higher education, including the ratings system as a tiny footnote.
  • My concern is that this ratings system regulation will quietly slip under the radar or gain traction in Alexander’s bill in the behind-the-scenes political horse-trading that always seems to saddle well-intentioned ideas with awful unintended consequences.

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