Obama’s rank plan

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February 13, 2012

10:37 PM

In an effort to create more transparency about the price tag of a college education, the Obama administration is looking to create a program that allows high school students to compare colleges and universities side by side. For students looking to attend the College of William and Mary, however, this may not be the most advantageous program as it fails to describe those things that define the College besides its numbers.

The College is known for its liberal arts education, but Obama’s program may not fairly consider our concentrations within and beyond the liberal arts education. Students from the College tend to go on to graduate programs or service initiations, like the Peace Corps, after graduation, which while worthy, do not necessarily pay the big bucks. If these data are compared to that of a school like Virginia Tech, with its heavy emphasis on engineering — currently one of the highest paying career fields — the College could be devalued. Obama’s program fails to evaluate and compare individual programs, and instead lumps everything together. A more effective way to structure the database would be to compare individual programs at different colleges — for instance, a side-by-side comparison of the linguistic programs at the College and those of other schools.

The comparison also ignores the fact that statistics aren’t the only factor in a high school senior’s decision about where to attend college. The overall feel of the campus to the individual student, the distance from home, the cost and myriad other factors influence a student’s decision. This comparison completely ignores these details, and instead paints a picture of a school’s performance based on salary after graduation. The criteria for the comparison need to take all of this into account when the program goes online.

Aside from all of the potential flaws of Obama’s plan, we cannot help but wonder what purpose the database is supposed to serve. Other school comparison programs, such as those on College Board and the U.S. News Report, already exist. This seems to be a frivolous attempt to cater to young voters on the part of the Obama administration. Instead of spending money on a superfluous database, the administration should do something productive for colleges. Nationwide, colleges continue to face tough budget cuts; the money the Obama administration proposes to spend in creating this database would be better used to ease the budget strain on colleges. The money could go toward paying for more students’s education or securing great professors.

When it comes to deciding which college to attend, students rely on more than statistics. No college can be adequately described by a list of numbers on a computer screen. High school students visit campuses to get a better feel for the college, and ultimately, choose the college on what they believe will be the best fit for them.

Reducing the College to a number will not do it justice. We hope that the Obama administration use its resources to do something constructive for higher education and not just click refresh on an old page.

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