Obama and his plan for college

Last month, President Obama unveiled a new multi-faceted plan aimed at making college more affordable.

One of his proposals included introducing a rating system based on affordability for the nationÕs schools to hold them more accountable in reigning in soaring tuition costs.

Federal student aid would then, eventually, be linked to an institutionÕs performance in the rating system.

In theory, this rating system would help families and students make more informed choices about the quality of education they are receiving for their money.

While the intentions of this rating system are certainly commendable, I remain skeptical of this proposal for two reasons: Firstly, how does one go about evaluating how much students learn at one college compared to another?

While graduation rates and average student loan debt are important measures to consider when choosing a college, they cannot tell us how much students are learning at a particular college.

Different colleges have different educational philosophies that cannot be objectively measured. ObamaÕs proposal seems to presuppose that a single ratings system canÑand shouldÑtell you which college is best for any given student.

My point being that none of these factors can be collected, quantified and ranked like more arbitrary measures like graduate earnings, loan default rate or number of online classes offered, measures that will be used in this proposed ratings system.

A second reason for my skepticism is the risk of unforeseen consequences when we attempt to change behavior through financial incentivesÑin this case, linking federal financial aid to a particular rating.

Colleges will work very hard to exploit the system in their favor. If we look at how colleges and universities have manipulated the US News & World Report rankings to bolster their appeal to prospective students, we should expect nothing less with ObamaÕs rating system.

Action needs to be taken to make college more affordable and accessible for students, but unfortunately ObamaÕs proposed plan oversimplifies these complex issues by attempting to address them through an artificial ratings system.