During a speech at the State University of New York at Buffalo today, President Barack Obama outlined his plans to make college more affordable and to enable more students to complete degree programs. In addition, the president touted what is known as a Flexible Option Degree that allows students to study at their own pace and thus save time and money. Most notably, the president would like colleges and universities to be rated by the federal government. According to the Journal-Sentinel article, the president's plan "would evaluate colleges on several criteria, including average tuition and student loan debt, graduation rates and the average earning of graduates. Obama says he will ask Congress to link the new rating system to the way federal financial aid is disbursed, with students attending highly-rated schools receiving larger grants and more affordable student loans."
The worst thing that we can do to higher education is to empower the federal government to make decisions that are best left left to colleges and universities. An institution of higher learning that is either rewarded or penalized for its graduation rates will ultimately reduce the quality and rigor of its education programs in order to ensure that its students are fully-funded by the government. And while colleges should have an institutional framework that provides students with access to opportunities in the workforce, schools should not be held accountable if its students do not become employed. The president said during his speech that, "It's time to stop subsidizing schools that are not producing good results and reward schools that deliver American students of our future." This approach to higher education will have a detrimental impact that will diminish skills and knowledge. Colleges have already lowered their standards over the years to provide incoming freshmen with the knowledge and skills they should have attained in high school. Essentially, the government is seeking to address a problem that it created in the first place.
College instructors are already facing increasing pressure to pass students who have not yet mastered course content. Obama's program will only increase pressure on instructors to adhere to pre-determined standards imposed by the Department of Education in order to maintain levels of financial aid for students. This amounts to a politicization of our classrooms and will have a direct influence on the quality of instruction. By lowering standards and streamlining the process to earn a college degree, more students will certainly graduate, but at great expense to academic integrity and institutional independence. Information about job placement rates and graduation rates are already accessible. We don't need yet another government program, with all of its bureaucracy and expense, to do something that is not only unnecessary but will have negative consequences.
In America today we have a significant number of high school graduates who cannot read or write at a proficient level due to government pressure on schools to achieve high graduation rates. Consequently these students must be educated in basic skills at the college level. This is the outcome we can expect once the government starts ranking colleges and universities based on their graduation rates. And with millions of college graduates already in the unemployment line, one wonders how this president expects to hold colleges accountable for placing graduates in jobs when there are no jobs available to graduates in the first place. President Obama should focus his time and energy on developing policies that will expand opportunities for all Americans to work hard and to build wealth rather than tinkering with higher education and