Ahead of Higher Ed: Washington calling for a close in ‘opportunity gap’

On Monday, likely presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio addressed an education forum at Miami Dade College, saying there’s a gap between Americans with higher education opportunities and those without.

“Those with the right advanced education are making more money than ever. But those who are not are falling farther and farther behind,” Rubio said, according to The Associated Press. “The result is an opportunity gap developing between haves and have-nots, those who have advanced education and those who do not. And if we do not reverse that trend, we will lose the upward mobility that made America exceptional.”

Some of Rubio’s suggestions to close this gap included four-year university alternatives, increased standards for massive open online courses or distance education and an income-based loan repayment plan that would be mandatory.

President Barack Obama has his own higher education reform planned.

Obama recently launched his administration’s online “College Scorecard,” which aggregates information like cost per year for potential students to search. Obama has promised more information will eventually be added to the site.

In addition to the scorecard, universities can expect to see a new accountability rating system emerge from the White House but not without elicited responses from them. Last week, the president released submitted comments from universities, agencies and professionals about the proposed accountability rating system.

Most of the submissions, all available online, voiced the same concern: a streamlined, metric rating system will not be able to represent the vastness of different universities, and universities that serve low-income students will be penalized. David Warren, the president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, wrote that this rating system will inevitably cause “unintended consequences,” and finding the best school is a qualitative search process by nature, not a quantitative-data-driven one.

Raymund Paredes of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board voiced similar concerns. Paredes, who supported an access to objective data to parents and students, said that while data access is useful, it can be misconstrued. For instance, transfer students with 30 hours or more are not counted in the data of the school they transfer to.

“Transfer has become a vital pathway for many Texas students to achieve a degree, and institutions’ success with these students should be recognized and commended,” Paredes said.

Paredes also advocated for context among the quantitative data, saying, “How these data are presented will be critical to making any ratings system accessible and useful to students, parents and the institutions themselves.

“Definitions and methodologies must be extremely clear so that prospective students can prioritize which measures are most relevant to them and institutions can meaningfully compare their performance to their peers.”

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