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
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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