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College Matt-ers: Despite ranking, OU students don't get 'best bang' for buck

As I was reading my social media news feed this week, I noticed a number of my friends — and Ohio University itself — beaming over the fact that OU had been ranked second among universities where students “get the best bang for their buck.” Now, there are a lot of things I love about OU, but affordability is not one of them, so naturally I was skeptical of such a claim.

The article, “12 Top Colleges Where Students Get the Best Bang for Their Buck,” written by Akil Holmes for Policymic, is a ranking of schools that will benefit most from Barack Obama’s most recent proposal to make higher education more affordable. The plan includes  laudable—though possibly misguided—efforts such as making student debt more affordable and promoting innovation. Crucially, one of the central tenets of the administration’s plan is to begin paying both students and universities for performance. To accomplish this, the federal government will rank universities based on several metrics including graduation rate, student debt upon graduation, cost of attendance, starting salaries after graduation and percentage of low-income students enrolled.

In theory, it makes sense to award universities based on their performance, but performance will always be a relative term. Take No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top, for example. These were programs that attempted to provide funding for K-12 schools based on their performance, but ended up disadvantaging some of the schools they were intending to help. What evidence is there that a pay-for-performance model of funding will end up any differently in higher education?

It is impossible to measure performance in a manner that is fair to all colleges, because many are already providing services to their students that is not quantifiable. Ask a student why they loved the university they went to, and I doubt their answer will be because their school had a high graduation rate.

In addition, university officials are already losing their marbles competing for the highest Princeton Review college rankings and some have changed how they operate to influence their score. Even OU began to heavily revise its alcohol policy and marketing strategies after receiving the number one party school ranking. With Obama’s rankings being tied to a tangible benefit in funding, it’s conceivable that universities will try to manipulate the system for their benefit.

To return to the “Bang For Their Buck” article, OU actually stands to gain from Obama’s rankings, as we are already performing better than average in terms of graduation rates, debt after graduation and cost of attendance among all universities. The problem is these rankings do not tell the full story, because they fail to differentiate between public and private universities. The average student debt upon graduation of OU students in 2010 was $25,330, compared to the average of all public institutions, which was $20,200. In fact, OU should be embarrassed – not proud – that they are receiving state funding and simultaneously costing their students almost as much as private institutions.

Students are certainly getting plenty of bang at OU, but many will be left wondering where their bucks went when it’s all over.

Matt Farmer is a senior studying political science and a columnist for The Post. Do you think you are getting your “bang for your buck”? Email him at mf291209@ohiou.edu.

 

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