The Washington Post asked several leaders of colleges and universities about President Obama’s plan to rate their institutions by 2015 and link student aid to those ratings by 2018.
Read on for responses from leaders of Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Catholic, Howard, Morgan State, the University of the District of Columbia, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Maryland at College Park, Oregon State, University of Virginia, George Mason, William & Mary, University System of Maryland, Goucher, Vassar, St. John’s, Marymount, Washington and Lee, Davidson, Stevenson, Hood, Trinity Washington and Excelsior.
Private research universities
From Cornell University President David J. Skorton:
WP: Do you support or oppose the idea that the federal government should rate colleges and universities on which schools provide consumers with the best value?
Skorton: We need to give parents and students access to appropriate and robust metrics that not only inform their choices but also recognize the huge variety of educational institutions in the United States and therefore promote a better appreciation for the full range of educational options available to all Americans. But an attempt to measure with a single yardstick will run the risk of further masking the actual institutional richness and variety that is a distinction and a strength of American higher education, ranging from agile community colleges that are critical to workforce training to the most advanced research universities, whose mission is as much about discovery and innovation as about undergraduate education. So the basic idea is a good one and critical and its success will depend upon the metrics used.
WP: If you support this idea, do you also support using the metrics that the president proposed: the percentage of students receiving Pell grants; average tuition, scholarships, and loan debt; and graduation and transfer rates, graduate earnings, and advanced degrees of college graduates. If you don’t support these metrics, which ones would you support?
Skorton: These metrics are a good starting point but they need to be corrected for the population entering the college. Using graduate earnings as a metric of success is a bad idea because it will predictably lead to a narrower focus on whatever vocational path is timely and topical, at the expense of the liberal education that has been so critical to the success of our nation. The evidence suggests that today’s graduates, as in years past, will make many job and even career changes in a lifetime, arguing against this metric. Metrics of faculty quality also seem lacking.
WP: If you support the idea of federal ratings of college value, do you support or oppose the idea of linking federal student aid to those ratings?
Skorton: Federal aid should be targeted where it is needed most, based on student need and the quality of higher education delivered. It is the definition of quality that will be difficult.
WP: Any other reactions to President Obama’s ideas are also welcome. Will any of them make college more affordable, in your view?