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Rankings pose risk to institutions of higher education, study suggests

A report released Wednesday by the American Council on Education criticized the Obama administration’s 2013 proposal for a federal college ratings system, which aims to rate — not rank — colleges and universities such as Boston University on their affordability.

The report claims college rankings have harmed higher education and that the addition of a federal ratings system would unofficially rank colleges and universities without fulfilling the Obama administration’s goal of driving down the cost of attending college.

“The administration’s focus on access and affordability are on target,” the report stated. “However, the tools devised may prove ill-suited for students most in need of information.”

Obama’s proposal involves the evaluation of universities across the nation on factors such as their average cost of tuition, commitment to helping students graduate debt-free and the percentage of lower-income students they enroll.

Several students disagreed about the potential effectiveness of the Obama administration’s ratings system.

“Many rating systems already do something similar and some are even nonprofit,” said College of Engineering junior Dennis Marquis. “Making a ranking system at the federal level just encourages universities with more endowments to bribe the government.”

Gabrielle Meggett-Barone, a College of General Studies freshman, said the Obama administration’s system could prove useful.

“So many lower class families are struggling to pay for school because they want their kid to get a good education,” she said. “But what does that even mean anymore?”

According to the administration, their ratings system would aid prospective college students during their decision-making process, as well as encourage universities to adjust their admissions policies and drive down enrollment costs to improve their ratings.

The ACE’s report highlights several alleged flaws with the president’s plan, primarily that a very small percentage of students, especially lower-income students whom the Obama administration said they aim to help, utilize college ranking or ratings systems such as those published by the U.S. News & World Report.

“More salient influences include family involvement and encouragement, peer and other networks and school and higher education institution-based resources,” the report stated. “Our data and others’ show that for low-income students, location and affordability are driving factors in college and university choice making.”

Traditionally, the report stated, college rankings are much more important to students in the top financial quartile: a demographic that generally does not need federal support in the college decision-making process.

Most colleges also have a “love-hate relationship” with published rankings, according to the report. Rankings often sway institutional decisions to improve rank, which may or may not be the best decisions for the school as a whole, it found.

“Most educators will tell you that rankings are at their best a starting point in the college and university search process,” the report stated. “At their worst, they are a poorly devised distraction.”

Sebastian Prieto, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman, said though college rankings were aided his decision to attend BU, he found Obama’s ratings system unnecessary.

“There are many publications out there that already do something similar,” he said. “Many also even go into the affordability or cost effectiveness … A federal list seems redundant.”

Enrique Guerrero, a School of Management junior, said he disregarded university rankings during his college selection process.

“I thought it was more important to talk to students on campus,” he said, “and I ended up deciding on BU.”

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