President Obama's New College Scorecard Receives an 'F'

There are so many fatal flaws in President Obama's recently unveiled New College Scorecard it is difficult to know where to begin our nation's imperative critique. For starters, how shocking it is to see that our educational leaders housed within the U. S. Department of Education could prove so inept in collecting, interpreting, and providing our president reliable data.

Earlier White House college ratings ideas were reluctantly abandoned by the DOE after numerous experts in higher education fired warning shots at ill-fated trial balloons. Recognition of complexity of issues, collaborative process involving authorities in the field, and external review were all missing in the previous process. Inexplicably, changes for the better in the production of the new instrument were not made.

College educators fully agree with current public opinion that evaluation and reform of higher education is overdue. To be sure, college accessibility, affordability and accountability are critical issues that rightfully belong on our nation's agenda. Assessment, however, formulated on the basis of incomplete questioning and misleading data may prove much more damaging than having no published assessment at all.

The New College Scorecard notes the annual cost of attending each college, the graduation rate of the school, and the average starting salary of its graduates. However, the Scorecard only includes data of federal student-loan borrowers. All other students are excluded from the report.

Moreover, the starting salary numbers fail to take into consideration the geographical region hosting the institution. A New York, or California, salary, for example, would be expected to be significantly higher than an Appalachian one. Should not per capita wealth and cost-of-living in the institution's region be noted?

In addition, no consideration is given to the correlation of salary and field of study. Teachers, social workers, and ministers, for instance, do not expect to earn salaries commensurate to business graduates in metropolitan areas. What are the school's predominant areas of study? Should those not be noted in conjunction with salary?

Do we wish to undermine and imperil the vitally important work of our nation's service sector, and its college providers, by placing value on salary alone? Do we really wish to discourage the graduation of relatively low-income teachers? Moreover, should not a premium be placed on a broad-based liberal arts education, and the intellectual (and holistic) transformation of the student, which prepares the student remarkably well for more than a job, but for any job, including corporate, legal, political, church, community, scientific, and educational leadership? Dare we risk reducing the college experience to little more than participation in an elite job training program?

Lastly, despite the White House's insistence on access to higher education for all, when reporting graduation rates, the new Scorecard fails to acknowledge accessibility of lower socio-economic students to each college. Interestingly, only accessibility, among the triad of accessibility, affordability, and accountability, is missing from the Scorecard's reporting. Yet, research clearly shows the correlation in retention and graduation rates to a student's socio-economic status, family finances and support, and proper academic preparation and encouragement. Should we not value accessibility to our schools and accurately factor in its consequences?

I fear the Department of Education, with encouragement from the White House, will seek to employ the New College Scorecard in determining the amount of financial aid for which a student would be eligible at each college. Students attending one school may qualify for 100% of available federal grants, while students attending another school may qualify for 75%. This, I fear, would have the unintended consequence of closing hundreds of colleges, which are vital to the attainment of our nation's educational needs and goals.

I regret to say I find the New College Scorecard, however well-intended, seriously flawed, patently unfair, and exceedingly disappointing. Can we please do better?

J. Randall O'Brien,
President, Carson-Newman University