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Government wants to start rating colleges

Posted: May 29, 2014 10:21 a.m.
Updated: May 30, 2014 5:00 a.m.


President Obama wants the government to start rating colleges and universities, and one administration official said it would be no more difficult than evaluating kitchen appliances.

“It’s like rating a blender,” Jamienne Studley, a deputy undersecretary at the Education Department, was quoted as saying to a group of college presidents after a meeting in the department’s Washington headquarters in November, according to several who were present. “This is not so hard to get your mind around.”

That set off a massive outcry from higher education bigwigs: How dare anyone intrude into our little world and try to tell us how we’re doing?

I’m not sure which one I feel sorrier for.

President Obama is a big government guy. That’s not a political statement; it’s just a fact.

I’m not. I agree with the noted columnist George Will that the federal government is really good at writing checks but not much else.

I’m no yahoo, survivalist outlier who thinks the government should be abolished, but I’m pretty realistic about how efficient Uncle Sam is when it comes to getting things done, which is not efficient at all.

But college professors and administrators -- a cerebral group, by any measure -- don’t always live in the real world.

Six hours a week in the classroom is an overwhelming work load, some professors whine. And what other job do you know where you can get tenure, a term that means you can’t get fired no matter how poorly you perform.

Hey, professors love first amendment freedom-of-speech rights until someone says something they don’t agree with. Then they’re the first to form a lynch mob.

If you doubt that, just take a look at all the invited commencement speakers who have been uninvited because faculty members and students didn’t like their points of view. So much for campuses being bastions of free expression and tolerance.

Of course, rating colleges is not a new concept.

U.S. News & World Report initiated the practice decades ago, and making the top 25 list of that magazine (does it even exist anymore?) was once a feather in the cap of both private and public universities.

But you know what? Kids who are serious about learning can get a great education whether they choose Harvard, where you can run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, or a local community or technical college.

If you’re bright, hard-working and ambitious, you don’t need a degree from an Ivy League school to excel in life.

But the idea of Uncle Sam providing some kind of collegiate rating system is slightly north of ludicrous.

What’s the Education Department going to look at here?

Graduation rates? Beginning salaries? Grade-point ratios?

How about beer drinking or late-night partying? Don’t they count? Certainly did when I was an undergraduate, way back in the days before grade inflation, when a “gentleman’s C” was something to be proud of.

How about football?: “Coach Spurrier, I know you’ve won 11 games each of the last three years, but your defensive backs aren’t quite fast enough to suit us here at the White House. We’re going to have to dock you for that.”

Think I’m being too hard on the government?

Not really. College officials need to stand by for their share of blame, too. Their Cinderella castles aren’t exactly untarnished.

Anyway, sorry for the rant.

But when I hear college presidents and federal government officials arguing about what works in the real world, it makes my ears hurt.



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