Obama’s New Rankings to Emphasize Financial Aid

In recent years Emory has become a force to be reckoned with in terms of college rankings, as it has maintained its status as one of U.S. News and World Report’s top 20 universities. In August, Forbes Magazine decided to drop Emory from its list of top universities as a consequence of last summer’s revelation that Emory had been intentionally misreporting admissions test scores. Although Emory has succeeded in maintaining its standing, it faces a new challenge: as of Aug. 22, President Barack Obama has changed the face of college rankings.

As high school seniors struggle to decide where they’ll be spending their college career, publicized rankings have become an increasingly important factor in their decision. The college ranking system has traditionally been dependent upon factors such as academic resources, selectivity and SAT/ACT scores. However, according to a recent New York Times article, Obama is planning to change these factors. According to the Office of the Press Secretary, the new college ranking system will place an increased focus on financial aid, scholarships and job placement after college, while also striving to lower the cost of a college education.

Although there are those at Emory who fear that Obama’s new ranking system will overlook some of the more unique aspects of the university, Charlie Harman, vice president of government and community affairs at Emory, firmly believes that with the university focused on excellence and education, there shouldn’t be a need to worry.

“It is premature to assess any of the concepts [Obama] introduced because the Administration, much less Congress, has not developed specifics around the broad proposals he has put forward including his scorecard,” Harman said.

Harman also said he believed that Emory would always be recognized as a leader amongst universities because, as he put it, “we put the horse before the cart.”

The president’s new system plans to focus on workforce success and rank colleges based on the number of graduates that obtain and keep jobs. With the new rankings recently released by the U.S. News and World Report, more emphasis has already been placed on graduation rates. Emory University President James W. Wagner said that this proposal is a demonstration of our country working towards improving its system of higher education. Although the new system still presents itself with several flaws, students would benefit greatly from this information.

In an email to the Wheel, Paul Fowler, executive director of Emory’s career center, said that Emory guarantees a “return on investment” for its education. A recent survey done in 2013 by the career center on five-year post-grad resolutions for Emory college graduates showed that over 73 percent of graduates are seeking out graduate or professional school, employment and internships after graduation.

The new ranking system also intends to create incentives for universities to work on accessibility and affordability. Dean Bentley, Emory’s director of financial aid, said that this proposal would set ranking standards and link the standards back to a university’s financial aid.

Yet there are those, especially on Emory Secrets, who complain that Emory’s financial aid fails to measure up to its reputation.

However, Bentley said the average undergraduate need-based scholarship or grant is approximately $33,833 and in 2012, Kiplinger rated Emory as one of the best valued-private colleges.

However, this new plan also seems to have a dark side as other private universities like the College of William and Mary have voiced a possibility of a ‘shame list.’

They fear that perverse incentives will force universities to reject ‘at-risk’ students and ‘dumb’ down various standards in order to obtain higher rankings.

Wagner said that it would be unwise to say that this won’t affect Emory.

“A lot of academic leadership are provided by schools like Emory, it would be wrong for us to say that this really isn’t going to rock our boat so we aren’t going to take a position, that’s why I say with concern that no I don’t think this will pervert what Emory does,” Wagner said.

But as a higher institution it is Emory’s duty to not sit back and watch as other Universities succumb to such incentives.

With this said, Wagner states that Emory will voice its opinion should the time come when we start to see such effects hurting this ranking system.

“[Emory has] a responsibility, as part of the American university system to not sit on the sidelines, just because we might not be directly affected [by these perverse incentives]” Wagner said.

—By Ashley Bianco 

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