Indiana News

Analyst Speaks on Obama's Plan on College Ratings System

8/24/2013

President Obama wants to tie federal financial aid for college students to a new college ratings system that would be managed by the federal government.  One education policy analyst doesn't think much of the idea.

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Obama's proposal would be a significant change in how the financial aid system operates if it gets off the ground.  The president wants a government panel to rate colleges based on their performance, comprised of factors such as tuition rates, student debt load, graduation rates and employment outcomes.  A college's ranking would determine how much federal financial aid it would be eligible to receive.  

Ostensibly, Obama's idea is to help make college more affordable and to reduce student loan debt, which has rapidly increased.  Ashlyn Nelson, education poilcy analyst at IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, thinks it will have the opposite effect.  "It will make financial aid less accessible to those getting into more selective institutions where any federal loans students take on are actually more likely to be repaid because they are collateralized with a higher quality degree," said Nelson.

Nelson says a main cause of the explosion in college student debt are the subjects some of those students are studying.  "They are getting degrees and taking on huge amounts of debt, and then realizing that they can't really turn their degree into something that's marketable and that's valued externally by the labor market," Nelson said.  

While affordability is an admirable goal, Nelson says it shouldn't displace the goal of getting an education that will help students make a good living for the rest of their lives.  "I worry with an accountability mechanism that's focused on one or two narrowly defined goals that we'll end up replacing this broader set of goals that we are trying to achieve."

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