Was it heartening to hear someone finally proposing a bold new effort to rein in exploding college tuition costs?

You bet.

Do we have serious concerns about President Obama's plan, announced last week, to pressure colleges to reduce costs?

Yes, we do.

The president has proposed a system of ranking colleges based on factors such as cost, debt, graduation rates and student earnings after they leave college.

The federal government would then leverage its student aid, giving bigger subsidies to students attending schools that scored higher.

Broadly, we support the notion that the most effective higher education institutions should get the most public support. In an era of limited resources, it makes a lot of sense.

And who could disagree with the president saying every American family should be able to afford higher education -- or find the necessary assistance to go?

However, the efficacy of higher education is likely to prove difficult to measure. And we're concerned about the federal government defining success.

There could be many unintended effects of linking aid to a government ranking system.

Meanwhile, higher education already is being pressured by trends that could restrain tuition inflation and we would hate to see any such movement disrupted.

Not only does the rapid development of online classes have the potential to bring down costs, but resistance to soaring tuition is growing among students and parents, too.

To be sure, the White House plan, particularly the ranking system, is still in the conceptual phase.

It's possible that these concerns and others could be satisfactorily ironed out. But that is far from certain, as is the idea that Congress could be persuaded to approve linking aid to rankings.

What we do know is that creating such a system will be a difficult and complex task. And the stakes for getting it right are very high.

 

–The Denver Post, Aug. 28