COMMENTARY | It’s no surprise that many college presidents are displeased with the Obama administration’s plan to begin ranking colleges in the near future according to a rubric of graduation rates, affordability, and accessibility. While the White House has yet to unveil its rubric algorithm, TIME has come to the public’s aid by creating its own interactive, adjustable rubric taking into account the three aforementioned variables, all using data from the Department of Education. Readers can adjust the variables according to which factors are more important. If you’re more concerned with affordability, for example, you can adjust that percentage in the algorithm higher.
While critics will likely jump all over TIME for how it determines “affordability” and “accessibility,” one glaring error in TIME’s judgment comes in its discussion of graduation rates. TIME acknowledges that schools will quickly learn how to “game” the system and will adjust their admissions accordingly. However, TIME suggests that schools will increase their graduation rates, and thus harm their accessibility ratings, by denying entry to low-income students. In theory, this would prevent schools from climbing the rankings so easily, hopefully removing much incentive to try to “game” the system in the first place.
But schools are more likely to “game” the system by simply encouraging grade inflation.
Colleges and universities will let in just as many low-income applicants, if not more, hoping to boost their “accessibility” score, and then simply…graduate everyone. The colleges remain just as accessible, if not more, and their graduation rates will rise. The Obama administration, pleased with schools’ climbing graduation rates, will eagerly fund these schools…thereby increasing their “affordability” scores. Within a decade, many colleges and universities will see a climb in all three scores.
The unfortunate result? A generation of college graduates who are woefully unprepared for the real world, having been given watered-down curricula for years in order to allow everyone to pass. Colleges and universities have little incentive to prevent this from happening because “are graduates able to perform?” is not, as of right now, a part of the ranking rubric. The schools get more federal dollars by allowing grade inflation, so why not?
Sure, employers will complain, but will their complaints drown out the cheers from parents, students, and politicians? Parents and students may be wary of the oversaturation of the job market with cheap degrees, but many will be placated with the knowledge that college graduation is guaranteed. Politicians will point to the rising scores according to the White House rubric and make happy speeches with all the buzzwords. Colleges and universities will pat themselves on the back and also use the buzzwords.
Anyone who complains will be branded an anti-education curmudgeon.
Don’t believe me? Just wait about ten years.