Gauging the Probable Impact of President Obama’s New “Plan” for Higher Education

President Obama’s new “plan” for higher education is, of course, largely a sparely detailed sketch of a proposal, especially when one considers what any legislation that might actually result from it will end up looking like.

In fact, many commentators on both the Left and the Right have expressed serious doubts about whether the “plan’ has any chance whatsoever pf being realized in actual legislation. Predictably, they have then gone to discuss, often at considerable length, the relative merits of what the President has proposed, while also pointing out those issues that the “plan” fails to address.

In some ways, the commentaries on the “plan” that I have posted over this past weekend—my own response, the response of AAUP President, Rudy Fichtenbaum, and the collective response of the Steering Committee of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education—have followed the general pattern in the media commentaries, though I don’t think that anything that I have heard in the media has been as substantive and as tellingly detailed as the analyses provided by Rudy and the CFHE.

Several writers have moved beyond broad commentary in an attempt to determine which colleges and universities might be the big winners and losers if the core elements of President Obama’s “plan” were to be realized in legislation.

Writing for Business Insider, Walter Hickey has attempted to identify those institutions that might “hit the jackpot” under the Obama “plan.”

What follows is his explanation of his methodology:

“The Department of Education is planning to develop a rating system for colleges that will help decide which students will receive additional aid from the government.

“Students attending the higher-ranked schools will be eligible for more tuition help.

“The rating system is comprised of the following three quantitative elements:

1. Accessibility. Are the colleges accessible to low-income students?

2. Affordability. Are the colleges inexpensive?

3. Outcomes. Are the students successful? Did they graduate?

“Since everyone is interested in what schools will win out, we built a model to give a rough estimation of the future scores of schools.

“We raided the Department of Education’s Integrated Postgraduate Educational Data System (http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/) (IPEDS) and scored statistics on thousands of colleges.

“Each element — accessibility, affordability, and outcomes — was worth one-third of the final score.

“For accessibility, we used the percent of first year, first time students who benefit from the Pell Grant program (http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/SelectVariable) at each school.

“For affordability, it was important to not use “sticker price,” as many colleges have generous aid packages. We calculated the sum of the net price of the college for someone after benefiting from aid funding and the amount of federal, state, and local aid. The final number is the ticket price of the college minus the institutional aid granted to students. This was so that all the colleges’ stats were adjusted to lie on a scale between 0 and 1.

“For outcomes, we looked at the graduation rate (worth 66% of the outcome score) and the normalized median starting salary, accessed from PayScale (worth 33% of the outcome score).

“We used 2011 numbers. These scores were evenly averaged to produce the final scores.”

The eleven “winners” that Hickey identifies are:

11. CUNY Baruch College

10. Alabama A&M University

9. Fayetteville State University

8. Winston-Salem State University

7. North Carolina A&T State University

6. California State University Dominguez Hills

5. California State University Los Angeles

4. Tennessee State University

3. CUNY Lehman College

2. Trident University International

1. Touro College

Congratulations to the winners—though at this point all that you have actually gained is some positive publicity.

If you are interested in concise but somewhat detailed explanations of Hickey’s choices, the full article can be accessed at: http://www.businessinsider.com/colleges-that-will-benefit-form-obamas-education-plan-2013-8#comments.

Although I am certain that the faculty and staff at most of these institutions do yeoman work in attempting to meet their missions, and I wouldn’t see much point in criticizing choices that are at this stage wholly speculative, I have some serious reservations about one institutions place on this list. I will explain those reservations in a subsequent post, not because I wish to make a point of criticizing that institution but because that institution’s placement on this list illustrates the problems inherent in these kinds of formulas.

One response

  1. It’s intriguing that 3 on the list (1, 3, 11) are in New York City; 3 are in California (2, 5, 6, although 2 looks to be mainly if not entirely online), 3 are in North Carolina (7, 8, 9) and the remaining two in other southern states. Here’s an hypothesis as to what this might mean: if income at graduation is a factor, then that would favor institutions in high-cost, high-wage areas like NYC and California, since a person coming out of college into a typical starting office job would probably make more than someone with an essentially identical job in a lower-wage area. But need is also a factor, so you need more low-income students (Pell Grant-eligible) to rate and NYC, California, and the south have lots of those. None of this has anything to do, of course, with what happens to students at these institutions!

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