Federal Ratings for College?

by Marie Herb 

Higher Education Politics are a hairy place to be right now. From all ends of the spectrum people are struggling. High school students applying to college are struggling trying to find ways to pay for college, College students are struggling to pay back part of their loans, and graduates of college are struggling to find ways to pay back their debt from student loans. All of these problems go back to money and the question of “Is College really worth the cost?” Every year, tuition increases for students, and it becomes more and more difficult to pay back that debt. As President Obama proposed in August, creating a ranking system and linking it to financial aid could be a solution to this problem. While Reiss argues that the government should stay away from a ranking system, which is already provided by companies like the College Board, he does not propose any alternative’s to the president’s plan. While the president’s plan to reform higher education may be flawed, at least it is a start onto some form of reform. Higher education cannot continue in the same path it has, it is time for a change – maybe not something as immediately profound as President Obama’s plan, but higher education in the United States needs to change if we want to continue to grow as a nation.

Obama and the Higher Education Scheme: College Rankings Federalized

by Zeynep Ozdener

We’ve all been there, searching for colleges on Collegeboard and on Google, trying to figure out where to spend the next four years of our lives. I know that I have personally searched many college ranking lists for my “dream” school, only to be disappointed that it was ranked too low or feel disheartened when it was ranked too high.

After I started college, and saw firsthand that the information I was learning was the same information being taught at other universities by professors with similar credentials as mine, I realized how trivial college rankings are. Comparing one institution to another based on a uniform set of “standards” is not realistic, simply because of the wealth of education opportunities in America.

This is why efforts to create a federal ranking system for universities is such a bad idea. It will only encourage greed and corruption by institutions who want to stay afloat in the education market and stay successful. Despite all of this, President Obama’s fantastic plan is to allocate federal aid to universities based on this new federal ranking system. He plans to include this in the Higher Education Act, which is set to be reauthorized by early next year.

College rankings exist, and they will continue to do so. Some colleges see their ranking as a point of pride, and others disregard it as irrelevant. However, the point is that they are able to do with the ranking what they wish. If a federal ranking system is put into place, every higher education institution in America will have to drastically change their policies just so they can get the amount of money they need from the government to stay afloat. Sure college rankings exist now, but as it is they are only a minor annoyance. If money becomes tied into this game then higher education as we know it is at risk of great change–most of which we cannot believe in, because it will most probably not be for the better.


Do Professors Matter?

by Vadim Belogorodsky

When consumers buy large products such as houses, cars, and televisions, most likely some sort of “shopping around” and research is done before making the final transaction. Along with these large expenses, why should colleges be any different? And though, many people visit their college of choice before attending, do they really get a good understanding of what they are purchasing? One important criterion in any institution that goes un-tested is the professors.

This week, “Professors Matter, Too” by Matthew Chingos explained that professors are obviously integral to the teaching aspect, but not all professors are created equal. He discusses how vast the teachings are in the same courses at the same schools depending on the professors. A solution he found in one New York university and one community college in Glendale, California seems to be for all students to take the same final exam at the end of the class so that the department can analyze results. This will allow individuality between professors to teach in their own styles, but for all professors to have the same common goal. The teachers will all collectively design a final exam that they deem covers the important material from the course. Then each exam will be graded by a different professor than the one that taught the student. The professor who taught the student will have final say in the student’s final grade. This process seems to be working in both those schools where students are happy with the curriculum and exam grades have risen and hopefully more schools adopt this system.

In my time here at Widener, countless times I’ve heard “oh you have so-and-so, his tests are easy while another so-and-so gives hard exams” and therefore maybe a standardized final may be the key to organizing higher education from the bottom, up. It seems unfair to have multiple examinations when the goal of the university should be to teach the same material consistently to all students.



Veterans Fighting for College Credit

by Kelly Compell

Many veterans who are returning from serving in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan realize that they need a plan to earn enough money to support themselves. A large amount of them went into the military straight from high school, so they don’t have any college credits built up in order to earn a degree. Many colleges take this into effect and make up for it by providing the veterans with credits for the skills that they learned while serving for the country.

However, many of the veterans are reporting that the credits they are being given are inadequate for the amount of knowledge and skills learned while in the military. According to the article, Credit for Service,” written by Paul Frain, seven states in the Midwest are trying to resolve this current problem. Their resolution consists of grouping together to make sure that all of the veterans are given all of the credits that they deserve based on what they have learned through the military.

Colleges should make sure that veterans are receiving an adequate amount of credits for the knowledge and skills they have already learned. It would be a waste of money and time to force them into re-learning information that they already know.

Is Our Academic Fate Already Decided? Examining Graduation Rates in College Institutions

by Brenden Overton

The graduation rate of US college students has been a popular topic for decades. “Inputs Trump Outputs” by Paul Fain examines several factors that have substantial effects on six-year graduation rates. Based on academic research, the author concludes that student attributes such as federal grant reception (especially the Pell Grant), average ACT scores, grade point average, race, wealth of the institution, and transfer credits, largely predict six years graduation rates.

Some of these results, especially those relating to the six-year graduation rate of Pell Grant recipients, are quite unnerving. If the federal government rewards the institutions with high graduation rates, these institutions will have an inherent incentive to optimize the rates. If these research studies prove accurate, then to accomplish this, the rate of acceptance of candidates that appear less desirable (e.g. low-income families, minorities, those with poor standardized test performances) will decrease. In a country where a four-year degree is more essential than ever to obtain a well-paying career, the future looks bleak for those students who do not match the conventional characteristics of a college student and the universities that cater to them. The critical question that then arises is: How can we reconstruct the educational system to allow those who are qualified but do not have the resources to obtain degrees?

Three Views on President Obama’s Higher Education Reform Proposals

Obama’s Plan Aims to Lower Cost of College

by Marie Herb

As colleges across the nation begin another new school year, President Obama recently proposed to help students make college more affordable. He suggested that by the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year colleges will be “ranked” according to a few different principles including: the costs to attend the school, the percentage of students from lower-income families, the percentage of students who graduate, the amount that students accrue in debt after graduation, and students’ the post-graduation income. All of these factors will be used to “rate” the colleges and apply it to financial aid for students across the country by the year 2018. It is anticipated that this will make school more affordable for many students and their parents. In the current system, the government disperses aid based on the size of the school rather than other factors. Under this plan, the schools with the highest ratings – regardless of private or public – would receive the most financial aid from the federal government.

In general, this proposal has a concrete purpose and goal. If Congress approves this proposal, it will be interesting to see the execution of this idea. While this system of “rating” colleges could be useful, there would need to be different factors regarding the type of school which the student attends and the significance of each of the criteria. If Congress is able to agree on an improved system of financial aid, students across the United States will ultimately benefit, and thus, the rest of the nation.

To view the original article in the New York Times Click Here!

NCLB for Higher Ed?

by Jessica Dembeck

President Obama recently spoke about the need for reform, as the cost of college tuition continues to rise. What’s his solution? The President proposed to tie federal funding to students’ performance and to create a ranking system for universities that rates them according to affordability, graduation rates, successful loan repayment, etc. That sounds incredibly familiar…

The No Child Left Behind Act (2005) did exactly the same thing at the elementary level, linking funding to students’ performances on the state assessment and whether or not they attain adequate yearly progress. As a future teacher, I’ve observed the results of this policy in full effect. Teachers are now only teaching their students how to pass the state assessment, and now, subject areas like science and social studies are being put to the side and barely addressed in the classroom. Of course, this isn’t happening everywhere, but the fact is that it’s still happening.

Similar to NCLB, Obama’s proposal seems like a great idea in theory, but the actual execution of the proposed policy doesn’t sit too well with me. The rating system doesn’t take into consideration all of the qualitative information that is crucial to education, just like NCLB. A university can have all of the right quantitative information, but if the quality of instruction is poor, then what? With how many colleges and universities there are in the United States, how can the government ever know exactly what they are funding?

The Cost of College

Leyette Moll

President Obama stated that “…if a higher education is still the best ticket to upward mobility in America — and it is — then we’ve got to make sure it’s within reach.”  While the president has supported initiatives to ease the pains of college costs such as the “Pay as you Earn” program, a program that caps loans at 10 percent of what a student’s income is and which few people are eligible for, he has also stated that he is planning to install 3 governmental changes to increase college accessibility to the middle and lower class American: “[1] Increasing value, making sure that young people and their parents know what they’re getting when they go to college; [2] encouraging innovation so that more colleges are giving better value; [3] and then helping people responsibly manage their debt” are the keys to accessible higher education, says President Obama.

All of the president’s ideas appear to be magical solutions to a growing problem, but are they fast acting solutions? Unfortunately these changes, even if they were ready to be enacted tomorrow, would have little affect for those attending college at the moment. Going to a school that has better bang for its buck and changing a school’s innovative tactics are ideas lost on those already attending a 4 year institution. Managing debt is also a great idea, but what if manageable debt was exceeded after one year of college for those who are now sophomores or further along in their college years? Good luck next time? There is not a next time or a re-do for those who have already begun college, and where preventative measures should not be discouraged, perhaps more immediate results would be welcome in regards to putting a dent on college costs.

Some Academics Aren’t In Tune With President Obama on Higher Ed Reform

Last week President Obama discussed his proposals for reforming higher education in an effort to control costs, debt and increase graduation rates. Over the next week knowyourcollegecosts.org will blog a variety of viewpoints concerning the president’s proposed reforms.

The first reaction comes from academics polled by Inside Higher Ed (“Disappointed but Not Surprised”). Colleen Flaherty states:

in reacting to Obama’s higher education policy speech at the State University of New York at Buffalo Thursday, in which the president proposed a ratings system for institutions to be tied to federal aid, faculty members expressed disappointment. While emphasizing that access to college is a good thing, they said, the speech failed to address deeper problems facing higher education — such as lack of funding, skyrocketing tuition and the increasing employment of adjunct faculty — and was too enthusiastic about massive open online courses (MOOCs), whose pedagogical effectiveness remains largely untested.

Faculty noted a number of perceived flaws in the plan. First, they argued that the outcomes-based assessment (graduation rates) was just an extension of K-12 federal No Child Left Behind Act. Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors stated that non-elite Universities would become obsessed with ratings and move toward a more standardized curriculum that produced graduates in able to get more funding. Other professors also voiced displeasure with the idea of focusing on outcomes rather than learning. The idea of providing “value” in higher ed was viewed as problematic because as one professor mentioned:

I’m not seeing the value of a college education in terms of participation in public culture, or a graduate’s acquisition of the skills and curiosity essential to ‘learning how to learn.’ … Do we really want to say that an elementary school teacher has had a less successful college education than a hedge fund manager? I hope not.

Please read the article for the full range of views.