For those who haven’t heard, President Obama proposed a plan in 2013 to reform the higher education system. His proposal aims to release definitive rankings of universities and colleges. something on which U.S. News and World Report and Princeton Review have always held a monopoly.

Although it seems impractical to many that the federal government is going to rate more than 6,000 colleges and illogical that the federal government is telling students and their parents which colleges are the best, these things are not what the rankings are.

Sure, they includes the basic statistics — among them, graduation and retention rates, classroom size and faculty credentials — but the rankings are mainly a three-pronged advisory on how to provide students and their families with better information on which school will allow them to maximize the payoff on what is usually a huge investment, how to make that investment in the first place and how to increase the accessibility of higher education to people of lower incomes.

U.S. News and Princeton Review, however, focus on the colleges’ admissions selectivity and SAT scores as the primary indicators of their rank, and this thinking is dangerous. Using student selectivity and test scores to measure school quality plants the idea that exclusivity means superiority. While some people are privileged enough to get into a selective four-year college that they chose as a safety school, denied applicants might not have known about any other options for achievement, having thrown all their bets for “best” schools into the selectivity basket.

Another problem is that current college ranking systems seem to be doing two things at once: telling people they are better off in a school where they feel like they are getting a valuable education, and telling them that their school isn’t good enough if it’s not widely known, respected or selective.

Obviously there are people out there who have always wanted to be here on the Hilltop or attend Harvard, Princeton or Yale. But what about those who just want to gather real world experience as part of the curriculum that they and their families are paying for, not an extracurricular activity that must be balanced against mountains of other homework?

I expect the president’s list to resemble (but not perfectly reflect) a ranking list from Time Money. It has pointed out less selective, less prestigious colleges that still provide excellent returns on investment, have high average student GPAs, and provide a sound education.

Babson College — a business-oriented college — and Webb Institute — a naval architecture and engineering-centered school — scored in the top two slots for their education quality, affordability and post-graduation employment. Both of those colleges’ graduates earn an average of around $60,000 within the first five years after degree completion.

Ivy Leagues, Stanford and Caltech are scattered in the top 10, while Georgetown is ranked No. 37. A lot of us already get some sort of institutional financial aid, and our graduates work in high-paying occupations. Yet, it is not enough to beat UVA, Amherst, UCLA or BYU.

I don’t think that a lower ranking based on affordability will cause us to lose many, if any, applicants, as Georgetown will still be known for its prestige. Regardless of rankings, wealthy alumni and parents will still want to send their children and their money here.

Interestingly enough, the rating system will happen, no matter what the Congress wants. What President Obama needs approval for — and it is highly dubious that he can get it — is the section of his plan that stipulates that the government will give students more financial aid if they go to a school that is ranked higher on the list than others.
In theory, this means that even if students are low-income, they will get less government money if they attend a university with high tuition ranks, regardless of how it prepares them for their future careers.

I support the president on many issues, but there are many valid concerns that people have about this proposal. This current plan risks penalizing schools with less lucrative — but still high-quality — major programs. It also gives less money to even individuals at universities that cater to high populations of low-income students if their school is lowly ranked.

The federal government should increase financial aid for individuals in colleges that score higher on this new list, but it should not take funding away from people in lower-scoring colleges. Just because a school receives more funding does not necessarily mean it is going to be evenly proportioned for each new student that comes in.
These rankings are promising, but they have problems that need to be wrinkled out. In any case, Georgetown’s academic status will likely remain untouched.

 

MusaBassey_ColumnistPhotoSketchMusa Bassey is a freshman in the College. The Undergrad Almanac appears every other Tuesday.

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