|Liberty University President Jerry Falwell|
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell was among the 50 presidents of Virginia’s public and private nonprofit institutions who recently signed a letter addressing concerns with the Obama administration’s plan for a college rating system.
The letter was sent to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and the state’s congressional delegation. It said the anticipated federal rating system would have “negative unintended consequences and will be harmful to many of the students we seek to serve in Virginia.” Concerns ranged from the burden it would place on part-time students, to the flawed approach of determining graduates’ success based on financial earnings, to how universities would be penalized for accepting students from low-income families.
Falwell said it would impact colleges in many ways, including forcing them to gravitate toward only accepting students who are from upper-income households.
“We find over and over the main reason why students drop out and don’t graduate is because of finances, so schools know that if they want to get their graduation rates up, they can only accept the more well-to-do students,” Falwell said. “But that’s not what we want to do here at Liberty. Our goal is to make education affordable and accessible to as many as possible.”
The high number of Liberty graduates entering the ministry, as well as other college students across the country who are entering public service and nonprofit work, would also lead to inadequate reporting if the rating system only focuses on earnings after graduation.
“This formula rates colleges based on what their students earn when they leave, and we don’t think that’s fair because a lot of our students don’t have a goal to leave here and make a lot of money; their goal is to leave here and serve others,” Falwell said.
Many of Liberty’s students are also nontraditional students, he said, who use the flexibility and affordability of an online education to achieve their dreams, some several years after they first attended college. The Obama administration’s plan would only count first-time freshman who go on to earn degrees in six years. Community colleges, where many students take general education courses, and other colleges where Liberty’s large population of military students transfer from, would also be punished under the plan because they would have to count those students as dropouts, lowering their graduation rates.
Although he said he agrees with the goals of the administration, the plan is flawed.
“I hope that the president will meet with the education community and come up with a better way to achieve this,” he said. “We all have the same goals, but this is not the way to do it.”
The letter comes as the Obama administration disclosed that they would not involve Congress in setting up the ratings structure. President Obama proposed the rating system last year, with plans for it to be functional by the 2015 school year. The plan relies on executive power and would only involve Congress in rewarding high-ranking schools with more federal aid.