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Reiss Testifies on Rating a School’s “Value”
Arlington, Va., Nov. 13—Washington College president Mitchell Reiss testified at a public forum on higher education and financial aid today in Arlington, Va., arguing against the Obama Administration’s proposal to rate colleges by “value” and award federal student aid based on those ratings. “The highest learning—the kind that helps you to become the owner of your life—is not a commodity,” he told the audience at George Mason University, where the U.S. Department of Education hosted a stop on a “listening tour” to solicit feedback. “To measure the value of an education in terms of its price of entry or its economic return is to encourage yet more of the commodification of education that has already cheapened it.”
In an effort to make college more affordable, President Obama has directed the Department of Education to develop a value-based ratings system for colleges and universities by fall of 2015. Then, when Congress renews the Higher Education Act, he will ask it to allocate federal financial aid according to how schools perform in the new ratings. Proponents say the new policy will steer taxpayer dollars toward high-performing colleges that provide the best value. But college administrators across the country, including Reiss, are voicing serious concerns about the possible unintended consequences of a federal ratings system. (A full transcript of Reiss’s testimony can be found on his College Webpage: www.washcoll.edu/offices/president/transcript-november-2013.php)
“The Administration’s emphasis on the future earnings of graduates, for example, suggests that institutions producing graduates who go into lucrative fields will be regarded as more ‘valuable’ than those whose graduates go into public service, community advocacy, teaching, or the arts,” he said at the forum. “Although we are all striving to find ways to make college more affordable, we must not allow the economic metaphor to determine the standard of educational value.”
Reiss talked about the difficulty of grouping colleges by “similarity of mission,” as the Administration has proposed. “Any one-size-fits-all federal approach is sure to have serious deficiencies,” he said, and “the ratings will indicate what kind of education the government is willing to support financially, irrespective of the particular needs and desires of the student.”
He pointed out that numerous rankings and ratings are already available to college students and stressed the ways colleges, themselves, provide a wealth of information to help families.
This forum was one of four organized by the U.S. Department of Education to gather feedback on the proposed ratings system. The first was held November 6 near Los Angeles, and future forums are scheduled in Cedar Falls, Iowa (Nov. 15) and Baton Rouge, La. (Nov. 21). In addition to these open public forums, the Department of Education is accepting comments at email@example.com.