President Obama is right to focus on the rising costs of higher education, but his proposal to link college aid to a new rating system is a bad idea.
Ratings systems are inherently flawed because they contain the biases of their creators, and because they can always be gamed. Moreover, at the core of the president's proposal is the idea that earnings of graduates are a key factor in an institution's success.
Under that measure we should fund only business, law, engineering and maybe medical schools. There is little place in this kind of thinking for the arts, the humanities, the study of history, or for that matter, even basic scientific research that has no clear immediate payoff.
Higher education is not just technical school. It is about learning something on how the world works and, most importantly, about learning how to think and how to evaluate ideas. The kinds of general skills that a student picks up in a liberal education are more needed in this rapidly changing world than ever before.
No doubt the president's basic motivation here is correct. There's reason to be concerned especially about for-profit colleges that are popping up with increased frequency. But the world of higher education is changing so rapidly, especially with the advent of online learning, that it might be best to just observe the changes for now before plunging ahead with major reforms.
Have a good weekend.