Much of the current ballyhoo in higher-education circles has centered on President Obama's announcement earlier this year to make community college free for all Americans "willing to work for it." The move, however, is a part of a larger suite of reforms that the White House hopes will make college more affordable and accessible. But, while the community college plan has received the lion’s share of the public’s attention, another component of the administration’s reform has been just as contentious.
At the end of the year, the White House unveiled the framework for its long-promised college-ratings system. The system is a consumer report of sorts that will assign grades to two- and four-year institutions for their performance as it relates to access, affordability, and outcomes. But many higher-education leaders and experts say the proposed system is a misguided attempt at making the college experience more accessible for students of color and others from families with low incomes. Among the critics is Michael L. Lomax, the president and chief executive of the United Negro College Fund, who last month published a blistering critique of the White House’s plan in the Washington Post.
"It would be patently unfair to compare the graduation rates of Dillard University, a historically black college where I served as president, with, say, those of Harvard University. Yet the Education Department’s rating system may do just that by grouping all four-year colleges together," wrote Lomax. "Harvard has a $36 billion endowment and enrolls academically elite students. Dillard has a $49 million endowment and enrolls many students who are not as academically prepared for college as their more advantaged peers."