“Plenty of Reasons to Be Concerned”
October 15, 2013—In an opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal, Washington College President Mitchell B. Reiss argues against the idea of a federal system for rating colleges on “value” and then linking that rating to the allocation of federal financial aid. Congress is scheduled to take up the issue as part of a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
“There is little reason to think the federal government can do a better job than the college-ranking services that already exist. Even if you believe otherwise, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned,” Reiss writes in the op-ed, which was published in the October 15 edition of the newspaper and online. “Any one-size-fits-all federal approach is sure to have serious deficiencies.”
Reiss outlines some of the unintended consequences a federal ratings system might bring. “For example, if you judge schools by their graduation rates, then you risk schools moving students along to graduation whether they are qualified or not,” he writes. “And if you tie Pell grants and Stafford loans to graduation rates, then you may devastate many historically black colleges, whose students often leave college before graduating because they don’t have family support or can no longer afford college.”
If “value” ratings are based partly on how much graduates earn, “then you discourage schools from helping students seek jobs that benefit society, such as teaching or nursing,” Reiss writes. And, “if you measure schools by the amount of debt that graduates leave with, then you automatically favor those schools with the largest endowments, which can better afford generous financial assistance.”
The op-ed also discusses the Obama Administration’s intent to lessen the financial burden of higher education, suggesting that the president roll back unfunded federal mandates such “the one requiring schools to pay the costs of verifying the federal loans that students assume” and that he peg federal student-loan rates to market rates.
Reiss concludes: “Congress should tread carefully in reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.”