October 28, 2013

Skorton: Obama’s College Rating Plan Is ‘Flawed’

Print More


Despite being well-intentioned, President Barack Obama’s plan to create a college ratings system that would be tied to federal student aid is flawed, say Cornell President David Skorton and Glenn Altschuler Ph.D. ’76, vice president for University relations.

“In our judgement … some of the criteria for determining college values are flawed,” Skorton and Altschuler said in a Forbes column published Monday.

Obama’s proposed college rating system is a part of the administration’s plan to make higher education more affordable and to make colleges and universities more accountable, according to Forbes. Obama hopes that, by creating metrics to measure universities’ performances and linking student aid to university ratings, the country can move toward reforming institutions of higher education.

Skorton and Altschuler said that, even while they believe “the goal [of reforming education] is worthy,” Obama’s rankings system may be too simplistic.

For one, Obama has not defined enough ways of measuring an institution’s performance, the two said. Currently, Obama’s plan includes figures such as the percentage of students receiving Pell grants, average tuition and graduation rates. Skorton and Altschuler said there should be more ways of measuring a university’s quality of education — for instance, by also looking at the quality of its faculty, its student-faculty ratio and alumni satisfaction.

The two also cautioned against giving some measures — such as graduation rates — too much weight.

“Some institutions, we fear, may be tempted to elevate their graduation rate by ‘dumbing down’ courses or accepting fewer students from lower socioeconomic groups,” they said.

Even with such drawbacks, Obama’s idea to make a college rating system has merit, Skorton and Altschuler said.

“Setting minimum performance standards for all colleges and universities, non-profit and for-profit, residential and virtual, and identifying the worst of the worst would be a huge step forward,” they said. “By doing so, we could spare many students a painful waste of effort and money.”

The two concluded their column saying that although they think making metrics fair and beneficial will be difficult, but they “believe it can be done.”

“As thoughtful voices from the public as well as academic and public-policy circles weigh in, we hope the administration will be listening. We can and must make progress together,” they said.