Last month, Barack Obama proposed that the federal government create a new rating system for the nation’s colleges based on affordability and student success, rather than prestige and exclusivity. The Washington Monthly has been ranking colleges based on these very criteria for years.

The latest Washington Monthly College Guide and Rankings will be the subject of a special event tomorrow, September 4, 2013, 10 AM to noon, at the New America Foundation’s Washington D.C. offices. The theme of the panel discussion is “Higher Education’s New Caste System.” For the better part of a century, higher education has operated under a compact with its citizens. Taxpayers would fund the basic research that sustains economic growth, and in return tuition at public institutions would remain low enough that middle- and lower-class students can afford degrees.

That compact is breaking down in front of our eyes. With plummeting state support and skyrocketing tuition, our flagship public universities are increasingly becoming, like elite private colleges, strongholds of the wealthy (including rich foreign students). Meanwhile, lower-income and minority students are increasingly being channeled to lower-prestige “open access” colleges where spending per pupil and graduation rates are roughly half as high. Instead of being an engine of equal opportunity, higher education is becoming a driver of inequality. Can a new federal rating system help change this reality?

Higher Education’s New Caste System
September 4, 2013
10 a.m. to noon
The New America Foundation
1899 L Street, N.W., Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036

Opening Remarks
Jamie P. Merisotis, President and CEO, Lumina Foundation

James Kvaal, Deputy Director, White House Domestic Policy Council
Jamaal Abdul-Alim, Journalist and Spencer Education Journalism Fellow, Columbia University
Diana Natalicio, President, University of Texas at El Paso
Kevin Carey, Director, Education Policy Program, New America Foundation

Paul Glastris, Editor in Chief, Washington Monthly

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Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.