Obama adds voice to college rating Debate

By Patrick English '15

Watch out, U.S. News and World Report—there’s a new college rating system in town and this one is coming from the U.S. government. On Tuesday, Aug. 22, President Barack Obama spoke in Buffalo, New York, proposing a new college-rating plan based on increasing affordability.

Obama’s new college rating system will be based on a combination of opportunities and outcomes. It will use graduation rates, tuition, student debt rates and access for poorer students to determine which schools are giving students the best range of opportunities for their money. While most of what the President explained was vague, there were some valid points in his speech. In 2011, students owed $27,000 in loans, placing student loans second only to mortgages in consumer debt. With tuition at schools like Hamilton rising well above $40,000 per year, it is difficult for most students to afford college without loans.

The federal government currently loans more than $150 billion in financial aid based on the number of students enrolled per college. Obama seeks to alter that model and instead tie financial aid to college value, based on graduation rates, transfer rates, degrees earned and average student loan debt. After the new ratings system is created, Congress would pass new laws to divvy up financial aid to the schools that are given the highest value.

So where does Hamilton fit into this new system? Hamilton’s ranking of 16th by U.S. News and World Report would certainly take a hit due to its basic tuition of $44,350, 31st highest among all colleges according to College Prowler. Hamilton’s graduation rate of 84 percent (45th overall) according to U.S. News also would not help. As a result of these two important pieces, Hamilton’s rating would most likely drop significantly in Obama’s system.

However, no ratings system is perfect, and there are several flaws with the one proposed by the President. The most apparent flaw is its lack of specificity. While the plan does include five specific factors, there is not much basis for measuring these factors or much reasoning as to why they are more important than others. While affordability, graduation and jobs out of college are important factors, they are certainly not the only things that make up an education. At liberal arts colleges like Hamilton, the values of small classes and high-quality professors outweigh the problems with affordability. For this reason, thousands of students apply to Hamilton every year, seeing the education as priceless and worrying about the high cost later on.

While high tuition rates certainly should be addressed, they are not a valid system for ranking colleges on their own. The quality of education at a school usually has little to do with its cost, and schools are becoming increasingly need-blind. Since several Ivy League and NESCAC schools can pay tuition for any student accepted, families do not need to worry about the high tuition rates. They can rest assured that they will be able to pay for college, regardless of their financial situation.

If and when Congress passes a college-rating system and laws to divide up college grants, it will not be perfect. However, the rating systems currently used are not perfect themselves. It is best for families and students to look at all the information available and find the college that best suits them.


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