A Distraction or Audacious Plan?
As Syrian civilians choked on poison gas or other chemicals used against them by their dictator and President Bashar Al-Assad, President Obama took a scenic trip through New York and Pennsylvania touting his new education proposal.
Most observers would agree that higher education does need much needed innovation. Higher education today is not affordable for even well-off families. Many families will easily spend $50,000 a year for up to six years for a degree that may or may not earn you a living.
The president is proposing that the Department of Education “develop a new rating system that will judge colleges based on accessibility for low-income students, affordability and outcomes, including employment and earnings.”
As the Brown Center Chalkboard reported, “There is clearly a need for more and better information on college quality.”
Most schools today look at graduation rates, SAT scores and student-to-faculty ratios in determining quality.
The president hopes to eventually “tie the availability of financial aid” to the new ratings. Early reaction to the president’s proposal is fears of price controls and new top-down standards set by Washington bureaucrats.
The Brown Center observed, “Once the needed data exist, policymakers will have to decide how to incorporate them into quality measures that do not create perverse incentives. For example, a poorly designed rating system focused on graduation rates might lead institutions to neglect low income or first generation college students, or to lower academic standards in order to make it easier to graduate.”
One significant reservation of the plan is the president’s hope to bypass Congress by not requiring their approval or counsel. This may work in drafting early versions, but would be a huge policy mistake. It also mirrors the president’s response to his Syrian shortcomings to go it alone and not seek public approval or consulting with Congress.
The general outline as told by Bruce Watson of Daily Finance is that “the government would offer larger loans and better rates to students attending higher ranked schools.” He feels colleges and university administrations will find ways of manipulating the system as they do with U.S. News and World Reports yearly college rankings.
Mr. Watson sees the ranking system as heavily politicized with colleges fighting to have their strengths more heavily weighted than their weaknesses.
With the job market in turmoil, it doesn’t really make much sense if the government encourages students to borrow more. There already is a large percentage of borrowers who cannot retire the debt they have.
To make the president’s plan work, schools must make available salary information about their graduates and what specialties pay the most.
Why go to college and obtain a degree that offers no job prospect? For too long, the system has duped our teenaged children by enticing then with phony data about jobs and socially acceptable degrees. This must change but not at the expense of Washington deciding what a good education is, what should be learned and what colleges are worthy of our tuition and what colleges are not.
Getting back on the campaign trail is what President Obama is all about. Managing is not his forte – let alone managing a crisis. So two full days were wasted on unveiling the new university rating system.
Now a week later, the president finds out one of his many “red lines” has been crossed. Chemical weapons were used and 1,300 people were killed. What to do?
Eliot Cohen, professor at John Hopkins University said. “President Obama is in a predicament of his own making.” After choosing to do nothing about Syria’s civil war for two years, it is now upon him.
If it is so important, consult Congress and we go as a country – as we should have done twelve years ago.