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Obama, College Scorecards, and Affordability

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Recently, President Obama made waves when he visited three college campuses and talked about plans to make higher education more affordable. His proposals include implementation of a rating system that would provide the general public with greater details about the total cost, graduation rates and alumni earnings of individual colleges and universities. Students choosing schools with higher ratings would have more access to Pell Grants and affordable loan programs. The plan is twofold in nature - first, getting more useful information into the hands of consumers and second, providing better affordability for young people who seek out higher education.

The rising cost of a college degree has been a concern of the Obama administration throughout both terms in the White House. College graduates in 2010 left their schools with an average of $26,000 in debt, leading to higher student loan debt in America than credit card debt. In order to reach his goal of leading the world in percentage of college graduates by 2020, Obama has been vocal about lowering the cost of the college process and providing more targeted, useful programs that address the needs of the economy. He has also called for more investments in community colleges and individual vigilance on the part of colleges to help rein in costs of higher education.

This new "college scorecard" proposal is just one more step in that direction. Like public K-12 schools, colleges would be held more accountable by the federal government and would be compared to each other through data that truly matters. Right now federal student aid is doled out mainly on college enrollment numbers, to the tune of $150 billion annually, and there is no accountability for that money. This plan would ensure that the schools benefitting students the most would be rewarded.

Numerous publications claim to have the perfect formula in place for ranking the "best colleges and universities" based on a variety of factors but none are officially sanctioned by the government. The President's ranking plan would avoid the fluff of other rating systems and address the core of educational matters: cost, graduation success and chances for achievement in the career that follows. These are the real stats that all students, whether recent high school graduates or those returning to campus for the first time in a few decades, need to make informed decisions.

In terms of minority students, the college ranking plan is beneficial. Though minority college student numbers are rising, 61 percent of college students in 2010 were considered Caucasian in comparison to just 14 percent Black students, 13 percent Hispanic students and 6 percent Asian or Pacific Islander students. Based on these statistics alone, minority students are at a disadvantage when it comes to attending and graduating from college. Every student situation is different but the cost of college and accompanying loan interest rates certainly play into the unbalanced collective college population.

A rankings system that effectively provides more grant money and more affordable loan options to students will make the dream of a college education a reality to more minorities. As more first-generation minorities attend colleges, choosing schools with high graduation rates (many of which likely have strong guidance policies in place) and good job placement will mean more career successes. Not only will the plan drive down individual costs of college attendance, but it will better ensure that those same students complete their college training and find work.

The time has arrived for colleges to be held more accountable to their consumers. A ranking system with federal oversight will certainly put the pressure on institutions of higher learning to perform well, benefitting attendees.

What do you think the college scorecard system should definitely include?

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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