LSU chief cheers federal college ratings plan

February 21

There are plenty of college presidents skeptical of President Obama’s plan to rate their schools on value and access. But don’t overlook those who support the idea, such as F. King Alexander of Louisiana State University.

Alexander, who dropped by The Washington Post one afternoon this month, was named president and chancellor of LSU last year after serving more than seven years at the helm of California State University at Long Beach, and four years as head of Murray State University in Kentucky.

What’s his take on what would be the first federal college rating system?

“I think it’s a good idea,” Alexander said. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s help the federal government start measuring value-added.’” The key question for college outcomes, he said: “Are they getting good jobs? We need to start differentiating the good players from the bad.”

Further, he said, colleges need to get real about the price of education and the market for it. Parents and students crave value. “The era of ‘Trust us, we’re worth it, don’t worry about what we charge’ is over,” Alexander said.

He said the federal government “has every right” to develop a rating plan that would serve as “a counterbalance” to private rankings and ratings from outlets such as U.S. News & World Report.

His view on the prospect of more information for parents and students on post-graduate career earnings and student debt: “It’s about time.”

For the record, LSU, in Baton Rouge, has about 30,000 students, according to the federal College Navigator Web site. Its average net price for undergraduates in 2011-12 was $11,676 a year — a figure that subtracts grants and scholarships from the total cost of attendance. Sixty-five percent of new full-time students who began in fall 2006 got bachelor’s degrees within six years. About 4.9 percent of its student loan borrowers default within three years of entering repayment, below the national average of 14.7 percent.

And here’s how PayScale.com analyzes LSU alumni salaries in its 2013-14 salary report: 16th in mid-career salary (median of $83,200) out of 148 schools ranked in the central-south region of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.

LSU was just ahead, on this measure, of Louisiana Tech and the universities of Oklahoma and Tennessee, and just behind Texas Tech and the universities of Arkansas and Alabama-Huntsville.

The data is riddled with imperfections, relying on self-reported information from employees who complete a PayScale survey. It only counts those who have a bachelor’s degree and no higher credential. There are numerous other caveats.

Many experts are pondering how the federal government can improve on such measures for its yet-to-be-unveiled rating system. Time is running short if the government is to meet Obama’s 2015 launch goal.

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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