Obama, Scorecards and Free Speech

President Obama has intervened in higher education in several ways recently, each of which merits some attention from Chicago-landers.

First: recently the President announced the advent of something called the College Score Card, available here, which ostensibly helps those choosing college to do so. Opinions vary — but the emphasis is on cost, salary impact after graduation, and related matters, and the data is limited to first time in college students and to those who receive certain forms of financial aid. There are a variety of critiques out there, ranging from the ways the scorecard disguises the inequity in our social order and economy (and our educational system) to the overemphasis upon dollars as defining the value of education. The debate is quite detailed within both higher education and beyond regarding what NPR has labeled the release of a torrent of data.

I did, of course, get right in there and look up places in Chicago; I also looked to see how many places appear on the scorecard that have 100 or below students (the total is 164). I also looked at the various ways one can filter the scorecard; religion, it turns out, is all about varieties of Protestantism, and all catholics are alike as are all Jewish institutions. While I know there are Muslim institutions of higher learning in the U.S., searching for those turns out not to be an option. None of this surprised me qua scholar of religion; but it does surprise me as an advocate for equity. The scorecard offers loads of data — reading it in meaningful ways will be the challenge every consumer has who chooses to use it.

What else did POTUS have to say regarding higher education recently?

President Obama has also weighed in on the matter of free speech and academic speech recently. While the headlines hype what he said (e.g., students are blamed for a chilled climate and etc), Obama’s remarks at a Des Moines Town Hall merit a read. Click here to do so. The debate about the right to debate — or the right to not debate — is, of course, always worth debating?

And then there is the mysterious acronym FAFSA (yes, this is the form required for financial aid) — which has been the center of a long debate regarding simplifying it. Most recently: a decision to use the “prior prior year” — which means that you do not need to have your taxes done to do the form and that the form can be filed as early as October. Yes, this is likely a good thing, though a tad complicated.

So, on the one hand, a scorecard that is all about money, and on the other a statement that college is all about how a space is opened to learn beyond one’s assumptions. On the one hand, FAFSA improvements and, on the other hand. . . Hmmm. Good thing they came out in the same period of time?


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