Can A National College Rating System Accurately Rate Liberal Arts Programs?

November 27, 2013

President Obama’s proposed national college rating system is an attempt to reinvent the method by which colleges get funding in order to ensure a fair opportunity for students across ethnic and economic lines. The current system of doling out federal funding relies on enrollment alone. President Obama’s aim is to correlate an institution’s success (based on a number of criteria) to how much federal funds it will receive. His plan includes parameters such as cost, graduation rates, and income after graduation. The administration’s concern is that the current system allows for colleges to put their own interests first, before that of their students. The administration’s blueprints for rebuilding federally and state-funded institutions do not end with a ranking system. Colleges will be urged to adopt different educational frameworks such as massive open online courses (or MOOCS), hybrid classes that split time between classroom and online, and an emphasis on accelerated or competency based degrees. While there is little argument that the efficiency and effectiveness of higher education needs assistance, the methods proposed by Obama’s administration are not without critique.

The major concern over President Obama’s new rating system is accuracy. David Swinton, president of Benedict College believes that “a single ratings system could not possibly capture the different missions and cultures of the more than 4,000 degree-granting institutions or their diverse student bodies.” Also of concern is the exclusion of “nontraditional” transfer or part-time students. A graduation rate based solely on first-time, full-time students graduating from the same university in which they started represents only a portion of the school’s student body and therefore cannot be a complete assessment. Also, in the case of institutions heavy with liberal arts programs, how can job placement and salary statistics effectively gauge success? A danger in attempting to measure success in higher education becomes the assumption that the only impetus behind higher education is the promotion of financial gain and job security. The result would seem to all but certainly take funding away from important arts-based programs that focus on craft and artistry. In the end, while this information regarding education institutions can be beneficial in many ways for the populous attempting to pick a school to attend, the idea of government accurately formulating “success” among liberal arts programs (especially creative writing programs) surely makes writers roll their eyes.


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