President Flynn’s Editorial Opposing the Federal Plan to Rate Colleges Published in USA Today
College of Mount Saint Vincent President Charles L. Flynn wrote an opinion piece opposing the federal rating system for colleges and universities in the June 4, 2014 edition of USA Today.
Advocates of a federal rating system for colleges and universities want us to believe that the government spends as much as it can on higher education. They also want us to believe that a rating system would help us redistribute federal financial aid dollars to assist students at higher performing institutions more and at lower performing institutions less.
These premises are not true; the remedy misdiagnoses the problem. The federal government actually makes money on financial aid programs. It gives Pell Grants ($33 billion last year) to students from the financially neediest backgrounds, but it makes money off student loans ($41 billion profit last year).
In fact, federal support for educational opportunity is inadequate and regressive. Appropriations must increase.
A rating system would not help. Indirectly, through federally regulated accrediting agencies, the government already determines whether institutions are eligible to receive federal financial aid dollars.
Can the government create a valid rating system to measure the relative merit of colleges and universities and redistribute financial aid accordingly? I doubt that it can or should.
The number of meaningful criteria is too great. Their relative weight in light of the talents, needs and preferences of students are too various. The opportunities to game any system are too numerous.
Of course, we should reduce federal grants and loans to students at institutions that charge but do not deliver. We need far more stringent regulations on student loan default rates than anyone has proposed.
People don’t pay back loans when they can’t afford to, yet proposals to reduce eligibility for grants and loans at for-profit institutions with high default rates are tepid.
The real issue is that higher education is frustratingly expensive. As Ben Franklin said, the only thing more expensive is ignorance.
Ways to provide superior higher education at significantly lower cost are elusive. So far, proposals to reduce costs significantly are proposals to provide less of it. To play at the creation of a rating system in order to shift around inadequate resources is no answer.