Barack Obama

Feds Rank Colleges

Obama picks winners

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Coming soon: a government-run rating system that will compare colleges and universities according to a complicated, semi-opaque formula. The rankings will likely be similar to the U.S. News & World Report list that already dominates the industry, but with one important difference: If President Barack Obama gets his way, schools' placement on the lists will determine how much federal aid their students are eligible to receive.

"Colleges that keep their tuition down and are providing high-quality education are the ones that are going to see their taxpayer money going up," Obama told students gathered at the University of Buffalo basketball arena in August. But the record of federal student aid over the last three decades suggests that a flood of federal money is one of the primary drivers of astronomical tuition increases.

At the Buffalo event, Obama announced his plans for a system that will take enrollment, tuition, student income levels, graduation rates, and employment outcomes into account. The program would begin in the 2015 school year, but for the rankings to have teeth, the president will have to seek permission from Congress to alter the formulas that allocate federal student aid.

That may prove tricky, with Republicans already rallying to oppose the plan. "This is a slippery slope, and one that ends with the private sector inevitably giving up more of its freedom to innovate and take risks," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told The Washington Post in August. "The U.S. did not create the best higher education system in the world by using standards set by Washington bureaucrats."