HACU responds to President’s plan to make college more affordable

August 22, 2013

President Obama today released some details about his plan to make college more affordable.  While there is much to applaud in the plan, like the proposal for income-contingent student loan repayment plans, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) cautions that great care will be needed in working out the details of the plan to avoid penalizing institutions most critical to the education of the most underserved and disadvantaged.

“The value of a new rating system for colleges based on access, affordability and outcomes will depend on what formula is used to weight these different factors,” said HACU President and CEO Antonio R. Flores. “Perhaps even more challenging will be the task of getting accurate and consistent data on the various factors. Without solid data and research, such a rating system runs a serious risk of hurting the very institutions, like most Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), that enroll the students most in need of our support.”

Some commonly used outcome measures like graduation rates are much criticized because they only consider first-time full-time freshman and overlook the majority of the student population in most institutions. Other measures, like graduate earnings, are not now being tracked and will need further definition to assure that comparable information is gathered. Current ranking approaches, like that of the popular U.S. News and World Report, tend to reward institutions for their wealth and selectivity rather than for the value they add to their students.

Similarly the president’s call for innovation and competition seems to favor the “haves” over the "have-nots.” The institutions in the best position to innovate are those that can afford to support a technological infrastructure and release-time for faculty research and experimentation. Already under-resourced institutions will again be at a disadvantage, even though their students are often those most in need of cutting-edge teaching and learning practices.

Since the Census Bureau projects that 74 percent of those entering the U.S. workforce between 2010 and 2020 will be Hispanic, improving the educational attainment of Hispanic Americans must be an immediate national priority. While some elements of the president’s plan promise some attention to that issue, far more work will be required to make sure it does not just help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.