Barack Obama

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. 

NEXT: Jeff Mizanskey Set Free After Serving 21 Years. His Crime? Three Pot Charges

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Yes, the information is already available, but that isn’t the point, Nick. The point is to give the Feds another hammer with which to force their will on higher education.

    1. They’re just defending themselves against the much greater influence higher ed has on gov’t.

    2. “The point is to give the Feds another hammer with which to force their will on higher education.”

      Specifically, this is the first step. Down the line, you can expect the administrators of this website to start adjusting the metrics. I expect to see adjustments for various socially “important” parameters, such as, diversity of the student populations, diversity of the faculty, propensity of “hateful” expression on campus, etc.

      Take a quick look at the current stats and rankings, because they will never be as close to useful as they are today. From this point forward, their relevance to anything actually useful will deteriorate.

      1. I expect to see adjustments for various socially “important” parameters, such as, diversity of the student populations

        Well, they already have that sort of data, but as there’s no ranking system to begin with, they can’t do that.

  2. Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing students to go to schools where the kids aren’t graduating.

    Yeah, let them graduate with a major in gender equality studies instead!

    1. Could be worse. They could graduate with a PhD in English.

  3. I don’t know what “average annual cost” includes but when I attended UB the undergraduate tuition was $750 a semester.

    1. Total expenditures by the student for the calendar year. Tuition, Room, board, books, incidentals.

      1. Pretty soon they’re going to have to add “legal fees for defending against rape accusations”.

        1. Your comment foolishly assumes that men should be allowed to defend themselves against rape accusations. The progtards are working to fix that.

      2. That can’t be right. Northwestern (the only school I looked at) is half of its true value.

        Looking at the site, it’s “the average annual price for federal financial aid recipients, after aid from the school, state, and federal government”

    2. $6,170 a year for NYS residents now. They estimate total cost of attendance to be $21,271 so the Obamanoids seem to be giving them a discount.

      http://admissions.buffalo.edu/costs/index.php

      1. I think the Obama site subtracts financial aid.

    3. Buffalo State here. I liked Buffalo and would have stayed there if there were any jobs.

      1. I miss it sometimes but overall glad I left.

  4. 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).

    Students receiving, maybe? Something’s missing.

    1. Hmmm … a sly trick by the author, who received a MA and PhD from that institution?

      These racist digs at Obama must stop!

    2. That might explain why some rankings are out of wack. If only a small percentage of students are poor enough to get federal aid, that *might* make it seem as if Vanderbilt University only costs $17K annually.

  5. “Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing students to go to schools where the kids aren’t graduating.”

    So no more public funding of inner city high schools then ?

    Vouchers for all !

    1. You won’t believe what happens next!

      1. What will happen next is that all the kinds who can benefit from vouchers will, and the ones that can’t (because they are stupid, their parents drag them down, etc.) will be pointed to as “proof” that “Vouchers don’t work”.

    2. “Look to your right and left. Only 1 of you 3 will be graduating.”

      Georgia Tech has changed since those days of freshman orientation, but its still relatively low (compared to other top tier schools).

      There is nothing wrong with a school weeding students out via competition.

      1. You mean a college degree isn’t just another participation award? There’s no way anyone could handle that you cruel bastard!

      2. How long ago did you graduate from ECH?

  6. A’s for everyone! Pass. Them. ALL!!

    1. Seriously, would the federal government, please fuck off. Like maybe they should focus on their constitutional duties. I don’t recall ‘college for everyone’ in my last read, but I might have missed it.

      1. There’s a lot of blank space in between those lines on which literally anything other than blank space may be read.

      2. I’m sure they’d try to say that that “promote the general welfare” line covers it.

        If I could change one thing about the Constitution, it would probably be a tossup between the “general welfare” line and the Commerce Clause.

        1. Or they could have simply added a line requiring classes in reading comprehension.

          The preamble sets for the reasons for instantiating the federal government and the constitution. It does not grant any powers of any sort.

          We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this

          There are three parts to the preamble. “here’s who is doing something”, “here’s why we are doing it” and “here’s what we are doing.”

          So, “we the people”…. that’s who is doing the speaking

          In order to…. here comes a list of why we are doing this

          1. form a more perfect union
          2. establish justice
          3. insure domestic tranquility
          4. provide for the common defense
          5. promote the general welfare
          6. secure the blessings of liberty

          And then comes the “what are we doing?” part… we are ordaining and establishing the constitution.

          There are no powers of any sort granted in the preamble.

  7. You probably never suspected the power of vapid sloganeering.

    This one weird trick with vacuous platitudes could turn you into a two term President!

    1. I don’t click on those links.

  8. There are times when i suspect most of Obama’s policy ideas are entirely the product of Millenial Polling…. focusing on the views held by the most ignorant, and therefore most-gullible.

    He gets weekly reports with headlines like, “‘recent college grads think College debt sux!”

    Days later, he gives a speech saying, “College costs are too high! Banks done ripped everyone off. I will do something about that.”

    Whether said policy ever materializes, or whether what materializes in fact produces any claimed results (or even makes the problem worse)… really doesn’t matter. The End Result is actually the Speech — because all he cares about is what people will remember, which is the *intent*.

    Its sort of like how loyally people will recite the non-facts about how Obama ‘shrunk the deficit’ by record amounts

    (falling from 1tn to 500bn a year!?… because he was the highest deficit spender in history)

    …or that Obamacare has “provided care to millions of uninsured”

    (by kicking millions out of their plans and into Govt mandated programs)

    The actual reality is unimportant. The Marketing is the Product.

    1. “saved or created” is my fav obama fanboy term.

      1. Don’t forget the… Not Taking = Giving!!-argument

        Which i find somewhere in almost every single prog argument, if you scrape around enough. (usually in their referenced “Studies” which make counter-intuitive claims about things like welfare or minimum wage)

        …e.g.

        “”PennFuture has updated an absurd study about the “subsidies” Pennsylvania taxpayers pay for fossil fuels. While we oppose subsidies for any industry, most of PennFuture’s “subsidies” are the absence of higher taxes on consumers.

        Most of their “subsidy” total comes from not applying the sales tax to gasoline and electricity. That is, taxpayers would “save” by paying more in sales tax at the pump and in their heating bills.”

        Liberals sincerely argue that not-taxing money “government deserves to have” is like stealing.

        Whereas if they were *properly taxed*…. well, that would ensure that government wouldn’t have to find some other place to get it… so in that sense, they’re *SAVING MONEY* by being taxed more.

        Logic.

        1. Yes. Tax cuts are theft by greedy fat cats at the expense of the poor who pay no taxes.
          It all makes your head hurt if you forget to drink or drug.

          1. Because progs & liberals make the hidden assumption that all money belongs to the government, and it is only by their benevolence that non-government people are able to earn any for themselves.

    2. “The End Result is actually the Speech — because all he cares about is what people will remember, which is the *intent*.”

      Which is particularly effective given he and his supporters will conveniently blame GOP obstructionism for policies he didn’t enact.

      It’s a Win-win set up for him really.

  9. OT: Seen around southern NH:

    A sign on a side window of a tobacco shop in downtown Nashua: “This is an adult establishment. Please have your ID ready to display upon Enterance”. The sign was nowhere near the shop’s front door, and I didn’t notice a similar sign near the front door.

    A Prius with Kuster, Obama 2008, and Obama 2012 bumper stickers. The Prius had a NH personalized plate which read “49ERS”. I wonder if this is a sign that California’s exportation of progressives has reached the East Coast.

  10. Speaking of bumper stickers-
    I saw a
    What Would NIXON Do?
    the other day.

    NEEDZ MOAR WAGE AND PRICE KONTRLLZ

    1. He wouldn’t dare wipe the server…

      1. Well, except for that 18 1/2 minute stretch….

        1. If I recall it was a total of 15 (or so minutes) missing. Very short segments removed.

  11. “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.””

    This from an asshole who knows transparency and how to avoid it at all costs.

  12. If government can’t tell you what the best choice is, who can?

    1. Your mother?

  13. “Taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing students to go to schools where the kids aren’t graduating.”

    What about schools where students are given degrees for regurgitating preposterous hogwash?

    1. They result in high-paying government jobs. So they’re AAA rated.

    2. They have to hire Michelle on a consulting gig.

  14. 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.

    That is, it would force them to act in the best interests of their students instead of their own. As much as I don’t like govt interference with the private sector, the loathesomeness of elite university administrators makes it hard to root against BO here.

  15. The site is quite useful actually: it shows that with fairly little money, you can get an education that likely lands you a job that pays way above average.

    1. “The site is quite useful actually’

      and how is it different than the same sources that provide the same rankings… sans taxpayer money?

      http://colleges.usnews.ranking…..t-colleges

      1. i was just going to ask that. maybe the font is bigger?

      2. and how is it different than the same sources that provide the same rankings

        It’s politically useful: since these numbers come from the current administration, it is rather hard for them to present this data and claim simultaneously that college tuition is spiraling out of control and you need to go deeply into debt in order to get a good education. If people go deeply into debt, by the administration’s own numbers, it is a choice, not a necessity.

  16. The thing is that information about the aggregate salary information from an entire university is not nearly granular enough to be useful.
    Universities are made up of multiple departments or “colleges” that usually operate nearly independently. The engineering department at one school might be awesome, while the law department sucks. Just knowing the average salary of a University of New York at Buffalo graduate doesn’t tell you that.

    What kids need to know is salary information by major. That’s the sort of thing that would direct people to enroll in STEM majors instead of wasting their time in social sciences.

    1. What kids need to know is salary information by major. That’s the sort of thing that would direct people to enroll in STEM majors instead of wasting their time in social sciences.

      That sounds triggering. We better keep it a secret.

  17. There’s already some serious bullshit from that site. I looked up Vanderbilt University, it says annual average cost is $17K. I have serious doubts that the actual undergraduate gets enough grants to bring the cost of Vanderbilt down to $17K per year. Tuition alone is $43, before considering everything else.

    1. Yeah, according to the site: Harvard is $14K per year, MIT is $22, Yale is $17K, etc.

      Why that means sending someone to Harvard is about the same price as sending them to high school in NYC. Let’s just send everyone to an Ivy League school! /derp

      1. Yeah, I noted that the yearly cost at Cornell was the same as at UB. They don’t even mention that one of them will leave you $100K in debt when you’re done.

    2. Another thing I noticed is that it lists the “average net price” as if the loans are just free money. It doesn’t tell you how much debt your going to have relative to income.

    3. “. I looked up Vanderbilt University, it says annual average cost is $17K. I have serious doubts that the actual undergraduate gets enough grants to bring the cost of Vanderbilt down to $17K per year.’

      That # is way, way, way off.

      That’s what it cost in the 1990s… after lots and lots and lots of grants and scholarships and whatnot.

      Now, i’d expect it to be twice that. Minimum.

    4. Yeah, there is something seriously fucked. It says that only 13% of students receive federal aid to attend, but Venderbilt’s own website says that the annual cost, including road and board is $64K.
      It also says the average debt is less that $20K.
      Something is not adding up.

      1. “Something is not adding up.”

        Keep in mind, about 1/2 of Vanderbilt’s students are the kids of the super-rich.

        not kidding. its where rich people send their kids if they cant bribe the Ivy’s to take them.

        1. As a fellow reason frequenter, and as a Vandy student, I’d like to explain where your misconceptions are coming from. First of all, Vandy is one of the few schools in the nation to give grant based financial aid instead of loan based. This leads to a very economically diverse campus (look at our stats if you don’t believe me). More than half the students are on Vanderbilt grants. Also, you are wrong about being able to bribe your way in. Maybe it used to be like that, but a girl from my high school who didn’t get in had her rich dad call and offer to donate as much as it took for them to let her in, and they told him to take his money elsewhere. Don’t know why there is so much hate against Vanderbilt here, but it is pretty unfounded. As much as I hate to admit it, the government isn’t wrong here, even if the site is totally pointless and a waste of money

          1. “As a fellow reason frequenter, and as a Vandy student, I’d like to explain where your misconceptions are coming from”

            I graduated class of 1996. Among my friends were John Dorrence IV, Katy Schwab, and the son of Brazil’s Agriculture Minister. And others. I knew a dozen dumb-as-rocks-rich kids who flat out said, “Daddy swings a lot of weight”

            No hate, just telling it like it is (was)

          2. Also – to your point re: “Grants”… that’s how I afforded it. plus a teeny scholarship.

            a side note = despite the number of “dumb rich kids” i knew… a few got kicked out for failing classes.

            So, at least they didn’t keep the kids if they couldn’t hack it.

            1. BTW – the point we were making was that no one believes anyone’s paying $17K a year at Vandy in 2015.

              Are you?

              1. I lived in the Vandy Bubble for a single year in 2000/2001(didn’t fail out, just got homesick) and received a grant for a bit less than $20K; that said it still left over $22K in loans to cover costs. What I do not remember is how much of that was actually tuition and not room & board–the numbers always look better when you leave that cost out of the equation.

  18. ritics, 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.

    Oh, no! Market forces might be brought to bear upon universities by getting students to study subjects that actually make them money. Fuck. We can’t allow that!!! Salary information must be obscured so that student blindly stumble into studying English, history, and philosophy without realizing the financial consequences of such decisions!

    1. I was thinking something similar.

      Gee. Now the government is ranking the worth of a thing by it’s market value. How ironic.

  19. Yeah, um, it claims that Harvard costs $14K/year and that students graduate with only $6K in debt.

    As noted up thread it appears that the costs are calculated by including ONLY students that receive federal aid. Which in Harvard’s case is 3% of the student body.

    Probably that 3% is almost entirely attending on scholarship and getting a very small amount in federal aid. This sort of distorts the picture.

  20. You are missing the bigger picture. The Obamacare website took 3 years to build a crappy website for which there were already private alternatives which didn’t do what it set out to do and which I could probably build in a month. This one only took 2 years. That’s progress!

  21. Instead of dicking around with College rankings Obama should rank NFL teams because GAMBLING.

    A government ranking of NFL teams. Man oh man.

  22. Barry took a course on Constitutional Law.
    But more importantly, he also found this code called the ‘Constitution Code.’

    With this Code, Barry can see words in the US Constitution that others can’t.

    Words like, the President doesn’t need congressional approval to wage war. He also can kill any US citizen without a trial.

  23. What else is new. The government under Dems or Repubs will waste $, create BS programs. Maybe the word is pogram against workers and taxpayers specifically. Right now I really hate our government. Really ! They don’t friggin’ get it.

  24. Its kind of ironic that the entire class of colleges with the lowest graduation rates are the ones Obama wants to make the government pay full tuition for for everyone.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.