Obama College Rating System Will Take On U.S. News & World Report

Colleges instead will be ranked in terms of access, graduation rate and affordability, but educators remain unclear about how the system will work.

National Journal
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Fawn Johnson
Nov. 7, 2013, 8:28 a.m.

The White House will have a new col­lege rat­ing sys­tem avail­able for the school year start­ing in 2015 that will de­lib­er­ately run counter to the well-known rank­ing sys­tem pro­duced by U.S. News and World Re­port, a top White House aide said Thursday.

“We are de­vel­op­ing a rat­ing sys­tem which is, frankly, in­ten­ded to com­pete with U.S. News and World Re­port, which is the wrong meas­ure,” White House Dir­ect­or of Pub­lic Policy Ce­celia Mun­oz said at Na­tion­al Journ­al’s Next Amer­ica Path­ways to Suc­cess pro­gram.

Rather than rat­ing schools based on se­lectiv­ity, the White House will use met­rics of ac­cess, com­ple­tion, and af­ford­ab­il­ity to rank the na­tion’s col­leges and uni­versit­ies. “How many stu­dents gradu­ate on time? Are they able to pay off their loans,” Mun­oz said.

The White House pro­pos­al, un­veiled earli­er this year, hasn’t re­ceived much at­ten­tion in the wake of the gov­ern­ment shut­down and im­ple­ment­a­tion of Pres­id­ent Obama’s health care law. Mun­oz brushed off a ques­tion about wheth­er the de­bacle of the health care rol­lout has caused Amer­ic­ans to be less per­suaded by the need for gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion for col­leges. “This con­ver­sa­tion gets en­tangled some­times in ideo­logy, which isn’t rel­ev­ant to how edu­ca­tion hap­pens,” she said.

Even without the dis­trac­tions of a dys­func­tion­al Wash­ing­ton gov­ern­ment, edu­cat­ors have been scratch­ing their heads since Au­gust when the pres­id­ent pro­moted the new col­lege rat­ings plan in a whirl­wind tour through up­state New York. They wondered ex­actly how it would work, par­tic­u­larly when the real game changer in the pro­pos­al—ty­ing fed­er­al money for col­leges to the new rat­ings—won’t oc­cur un­less Con­gress ap­proves it (a big ‘if’) and is set to be­gin two years after Obama leaves of­fice.

Mun­oz ac­know­ledged that the lack of de­tail about how the White House will meas­ure a col­lege’s ef­fic­acy has frus­trated some in the high­er edu­ca­tion com­munity. But, she said, the reas­on has been pre­cisely for the pur­pose of en­ga­ging the edu­cat­ors who un­der­stand the sys­tem most in design­ing the sys­tem. “Every­body un­der­stands that this is a con­ver­sa­tion we need to have, and it’s hard to get there,” she said.

The biggest chal­lenges for uni­versit­ies over the next sev­er­al dec­ades will be the demo­graph­ic shift from a ma­jor­ity-white stu­dent pop­u­la­tion to a ma­jor­ity-minor­ity one. “Lati­nos alone now make up 25 per­cent of all U.S. pub­lic school stu­dents and rep­res­ent the largest ra­cial or eth­nic minor­ity group on col­lege cam­puses in the U.S.,” said Sen. Robert Men­en­dez, D-N.J., who also spoke at the event. “But des­pite our grow­ing num­bers, gradu­ation and at­tain­ment rates for minor­it­ies are still linger­ing be­hind.”

The Lu­mina Found­a­tion pro­duced a dis­turb­ing re­port earli­er this year show­ing that only 19 per­cent of His­pan­ics have a col­lege de­gree and 27 per­cent of Afric­an Amer­ic­ans, com­pared with 43 per­cent of whites. Without in­ter­ven­tion, the prob­lem will lit­er­ally mul­tiply as His­pan­ics are the fast­est-grow­ing part of the United States pop­u­la­tion.

Men­en­dez used a big part of his speech to push for one of his biggest le­gis­lat­ive pri­or­it­ies, com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form. He stopped short at ad­voc­at­ing that the pres­id­ent use his ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity to provide de facto leg­al status to a broad swath of un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants.

“The only thing stop­ping im­mig­ra­tion re­form from hap­pen­ing is a vote in the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives,” Men­en­dez said. “I can’t really call on the pres­id­ent, with a law that is bind­ing right now, to simply ig­nore all as­pects of the ex­ist­ing law.”

Mun­oz did not ad­dress the ques­tion of ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity to leg­al­ize un­au­thor­ized im­mig­rants, but Obama and his aides have re­peatedly said they do not have the au­thor­ity to act uni­lat­er­ally on that front.

However, the White House is well aware of the broad­er prob­lems that stem from the in­creas­ingly di­verse and chan­ging pop­u­la­tion. The pres­id­ent in­cor­por­ates that view­point in to all of his eco­nom­ic policies, Mun­oz said.

“The pres­id­ent does not have an agenda for Lati­nos over here and for Afric­an Amer­ic­ans over here and for wo­men over here and for the rest of the coun­try over here,” she said. “This is not a con­ver­sa­tion about al­tru­ism. …It’s not about be­ing nice to folks.”


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