Earning or Learning?

Apparently as part of its effort to improve college affordability, the White House has introduced a “scorecard” for colleges. It’s perhaps based on relevant concerns about the real cost of college, but so far it looks like a mistake.

The idea of the scorecard is to allow potential students to easily compare colleges based on “information about a college’s cost, graduation rate, average debt burden, loan-repayment rate, and job-placement rate,” according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

It’s just a draft but, according to the White House, it’s intended to “make it easier for students and their families to identify and choose high-quality, affordable colleges that provide good value.”

This would probably be what education historian Diane Ravitch meant when she said that the president’s college reforms could “narrow the purposes of higher education.”

The trouble here is “good value.” If the federal government defines the value of college only as essentially a ratio of debt to job placement, those will become the only things that matter in higher education discussions. While the debt information is an important component of the cost of college, the other portion of the ratio is troublesome.

Job placement isn’t the right thing to measure to determine what “value” is in a college education. The administration is proposing to measure the wrong things.

Americans should have no problem with accountability per se but this is offensive; these are academic institutions, not vocational schools. Undergraduate institutions should not be measured based on the job offers of graduates. Measure what they learned, and how much it cost to learn it. That’s real value. And that’s the only value we should care about. The jobs stuff is a byproduct, and by no means the only byproduct that’s important.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer