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UW reacts to college ranking plan

Published On: Dec 24 2013 03:09:21 AM CST   Updated On: Aug 24 2013 02:02:59 PM CDT

Rosina Peixoto/Wikimedia Commons

7. University of Wisconsin - Madison


The UW System is considering the impact of a new college ranking plan rolled out by President Barack Obama this week.

In speeches about the plan at colleges on the East Coast this week, President Obama rolled out a plan to create the rating system for colleges and allocate financial aid based on outcomes. The hope is it could drive down costs and help families make more informed decisions.

Obama gave props to Wisconsin for its new Flexible Degree program that will start in January, giving students credit for what they already know.

UW System President Kevin Reilly says that the UW is innovating because they are the first full system to try a program like this with a number of it's institutions.

But in the bigger picture, the affordability ranking system could affect schools and colleges across the state.

UW Senior Scott Papez says cost was a major factor in choosing whether to come to UW Madison.

"It came down to the University of Minnesota business school or Madison's business school," said Papez. "I was early-admitted to the U of M and was fully planning on going there until it looked like it would be a several-thousand-dollar difference in the end of each year."

That type of consideration is what the president wants students to make across the country. His plan would factor criteria that includes tuition costs, graduation rates and graduate earnings and score schools, then tie those outcomes to financial aid.

Reilly says he's still digesting what "affordability" rankings could mean.

"I think we will have to continue to raise tuition at a reasonable rate and have financial aid to back it up," said Reilly. "If we have to demonstrate that we're doing certain things to earn that financial aid I think our UW campuses will do very well in that regard."

It's the details of the plan that campuses will need to consider. UW Madison's financial aid director points out this plan would compare similar schools.

"Before that we were all lumped together," said Susan Fischer, director of UW Madison financial aid. "If they are really intending to do mission-based [comparisons], which would separate out the mission of a community college from a four-year institution from a comprehensive vocational tech, that would be a good thing. We are not completely comparable, not all the same."

It's the metrics by which they are judged that collleges across the country will be investigating, and whether it is fair to make those comparisons.

Papez says he's concerned that the "affordability" rank wouldn't factor in that students can make choices that affect how much college costs, including in housing and even books.

"I feel like a ranking potentially could have influenced my decision but after going through the years of college that I have, I don't know if a straightforward rank would have helped unless I knew all those factors ahead of time," said Papez.

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