Remember Obama's Bold Plan to Rank Colleges? Neither Did We Until…

...the White House finally unveiled a site that fails to do what the president championed.


Back in 2013, President Obama talked up his plan to create a government system of college ratings that would "give consumers clear, transparent information on college performance." Finally, students and parents would no longer have to go to various private-sector and nonprofit sites that track college costs, graduation rates, and the like!

A big part of the plan—the biggest, really, and possibly the most interesting and certainly the most contentious—was Obama's promise to rank schools into various categories based on whether or not they deliver to students.

"I'm proposing major new reforms that will shake up the current system," Mr. Obama said at the time. "Taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing students to go to schools where the kids aren't graduating."

I'm all for that, but exactly why holding schools accountable for bilking taxpayers via government-backed student loans and grants required creating a website that effectively duplicates information already widely available is beyond me.

So the site is finally up and…doesn't have the rankings. The data is based on students "a federal loan or grant to attend college" which the administration says is representative of all students (maybe, maybe not).

The New York Times sniffs,

Aides to Mr. Obama had described him as privately demanding from his staff bold action that would hold schools accountable, especially those that had low graduation rates and poor postgraduate income potential — even as they continued charging students tens of thousands of dollars each year to attend. Administration officials said at the time that the rating system would be in place by 2015.

But the plan quickly ran into fierce opposition. Critics, including many of the presidents at elite private colleges, lobbied furiously against the idea of a government rating system, saying it could force schools to prioritize money-making majors like accounting over those like English, history or philosophy.

The site can be accessed here. Since Obama announced his plan at the University of Buffalo, also known as The State University of New York at Buffalo, I figured I'd post the thumbnail of that fine institution (from which I've got an M.A. and Ph.D. in English). It remains a bargain, especially for in-state students in the Empire State. It's a nice-looking site that is easy to use and…tremendously redundant of material already available all over the place.

The Times doesn't include a figure on how much money it took the Department of Education to cook this whole thing up. But back in 2013, Ira Stoll noted at Reason.com that even as Obama was announcing his plan, LinkedIn had already launched its own site that offered much of the same information. Which is, of course, also available on college-ratings sites such as US News and Princeton Review. Those sites were created and are maintained at a cost of zero tax dollars.