Slow down, get college ratings right, Dynarski tells White House

September 22, 2014

“The Obama administration seems intent on putting [college] ratings in place in short order,” writes Dynarski in “Why Federal College Ratings Won’t Rein In Tuition,” published in the Sunday, September 21 edition of The New York Times. “Along with many others, I advise slowing down to get it right.”

While the college ratings system is intended to improve college quality while controlling college costs, Dynarski outlines a number of potential problems a hurried ratings system would likely fail to address. First on her mind, the challenge of lowering tuition at public colleges, where 80 percent of undergraduates choose to study.

At public colleges, she writes, rising tuition prices aren’t a result of spiraling costs; they’re a result of diminished state support for higher education. Dynarski compares state support for public colleges in 1988 and 2013, demonstrating a dramatic decrease in per-student funding from state legislatures and a hand-in-hand increase in the cost of tuition. Can the Obama Administration’s college ratings system change that? “Not really,” she says.

Another reason why ratings won’t touch public college tuition: Even if students discover their state school is considerably more expensive than another state school, they have few options to address the issue; if they cross state lines to attend school, they’ll pay out-of-state tuition. Is mass migration an option for families with college-going kids? Sure, Dynarski says, “But mass migration was probably not the mechanism the Obama administration had in mind for reducing college costs.”

Read Dynarski’s full piece, “Why Federal College Ratings Won’t Rein In Tuition,” and a related piece she wrote on September 15 “For Inspiration in College Ratings, Look to Healthcare.”

Susan Dynarski is a professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and a professor of education at the University of Michigan's School of Education. She is co-founder and co-director of the Ford School’s Education Policy Initiative, which engages in applied, policy-relevant education research designed to improve overall educational achievement and outcomes.