For decades, the Democratic approach to improving college access has been for the federal government to subsidize loans for low-income students. It’s not working. Colleges and universities have simply responded by raising their prices, and Congress will never be willing to spend enough money to sufficiently fill the gap.
Now, however, President Obama is offering a greater spur to affordability: to create a rating system for higher education, scoring colleges in areas including average tuition, loan debt, graduation rates, and what graduates earn after getting their diploma. The idea is for Congress eventually to peg the government’s student-aid programs to these scores, directing students to more affordable institutions while reining in the $1 trillion of outstanding federal loans. The administration is also hoping to encourage more colleges and universities to explore cost-effective innovations, such as online coursework.