In the past, there have been a number of Pileus postings on graduate school and the state of higher education (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Today’s installment focuses on President Obama’s new proposal for a rating system “to evaluate colleges on tuition, the percentage of low-income students, graduation rates and debt of graduates” (Washington Post). The rating system would be reinforced by changes in the allocation of federal financial aid. While the former could be accomplished via executive action, the latter would require statutory changes. The goal is to bend the old cost curve. The ratings and changes in federal funding could create incentives to control costs, which have grown at an obscene rate and forced families and students to incur high levels of debt. It would seem to be a political winner regardless of political party.
The Washington Post article predicts that there will be resistance from higher education institutions and it will be difficult to create a consensus on the core indicators. As the president of the American Council on Education notes: “It is hard for me to imagine there is a … system that we would all nod our heads to and say, ‘Yes.’” Does this matter? The most influential rating system (U.S. News and World Report) uses a number of indicators that many in higher education find odd, to put it mildly. But they are closely watched by university presidents and boards-of-trustees anxious to make the changes that would help elevate their institutions in the annual rankings.
Certainly, more information is better. But as noted in earlier postings on this topic, there is a lot of pressure to contain costs and one of the easiest routes will be to substitute contingent workers (the adjuncts, visitors, and grad students) and MOOCS (massive online open courses) for tenured professors. Ultimately, all of this could help control the costs of higher education. Society wins. But it does not bode well for those dreaming of an academic career or at least an academic career in the traditional sense.