So I admit that I was initially confused by what the President could do *now* about his education plan. With the current Congress, nothing is getting passed. There are some elements in the plan which can be done through pure executive power, but most of it requires legislation. So why now? How does this announcement matter today?
The answer is in the first section of the fact sheet:
Before the 2015 school year, the Department of Education will develop a new ratings system to help students compare the value offered by colleges and encourage colleges to improve…Over the next four years, the Department of Education will refine these measurements, while colleges have an opportunity to improve their performance and ratings. The Administration will seek legislation using this new rating system to transform the way federal aid is awarded to colleges once the ratings are well developed. Students attending high-performing colleges could receive larger Pell Grants and more affordable student loans.
I don’t know if you caught that, but here’s what’s going on. The administration has the executive authority to collect these numbers on effectiveness and define the formula. What it is saying is that over the next four years it’s going to be tracking schools and ranking them. The plan is to propose them as a funding formula in the near term, and steer Title IV funds towards best “bang for buck” schools.
So let’s say the President doesn’t get this into the next Higher Education Act reauthorization (he won’t). When he fails, the numbers don’t go away. They keep getting compiled and refined, waiting…
When 2017 rolls around, what happens? Well, it’s potentially a whole new Congress. It’s potentially a Senate without a filibuster. And this will be proposed again, based on these numbers.
So here’s the deal — as these rankings are developed, and you find your institution is near the bottom (or even the middle) you have a choice. You can assume that the political reality after the next presidential election will look like it does today, and slough off these numbers being compiled about you as insignificant. Or you can take the view that there’s enough of a chance that environment may be favorable to the bill’s passage in a couple years that you’d better take the numbers seriously.
I actually think this is a good thing, but perhaps I’ll leave that to a later post. The question most administrators and state legislators have to ask themselves today is “Do I feel lucky?” I’m not sure how they will answer that.