GOP Lawmakers Cool on Obama's College Rankings Plan

Republicans say federal government shouldn't rank schools.

President Barack Obama speaks at the University at Buffalo on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, in Buffalo, N.Y.,  where he began his two day bus tour to talk about college financial aid.
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Top Republicans expressed skepticism of President Barack Obama's push to create a government ranking of higher education institutions in order to help students and parents make 'apples-to-apples' decisions about college during a speech in Buffalo Thursday.

[READ: Obama Releases Plan to Lower College Cost]

The White House is also proposing federal financial aid be tied to college performance as evaluated by the new ranking system by 2015 and further making college more affordable by capping student loan payments at 10 percent of monthly income.

"At a time when a higher education has never been more important or more expensive, too many students are facing a choice that they should never have to make," Obama said at the University of Buffalo. "Either they say no to college…or you do what it takes to go to college, but then you run the risk that you won't be able to pay it off because you have so much debt."

But Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said while he's supportive of some of Obama's ideas on increasing innovation, he's not keen the idea of government rankings.

 

"I remain concerned that imposing an arbitrary college ranking system could curtail the very innovation we hope to encourage – and even lead to federal price controls," he said in a release. "As always, the devil is in the details, and I look forward to examining the president's proposal further as part of the committee's ongoing efforts to reauthorize the Higher Education Act and help improve college affordability and access."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, praised the White House for working with Republicans to pass the recent student loan measure that would tie borrowing rates to the stock market, but also stopped well short of embracing Obama's ranking proposal.

"A number of states, including Tennessee, are taking innovative steps to reduce college costs by tying state aid to graduation rates and other measures," he said in a release. "But Washington needs to be careful about taking a good idea for one state and forcing all 6,000 institutions of higher education to do the exact same thing, turning Washington into a sort of national school board for our colleges and universities."

[DEBATE CLUB: Should the Senate Pass the House's No Child Left Behind Rewrite?]

Democrats, so far, have been more supportive of the White House initiatives.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said greater transparency that would be provided by private colleges sharing more data with the government would help hold them more accountable.

"I applaud the president's proposal for the Department of Education to develop a new college ratings system that will help students and their families make informed decisions about where to attend while also encouraging our colleges to improve," he said in a release.

Harkin did not offer a rubber stamp on all the Obama proposals, however, and added he looks forward to making his own mark on any new education laws.

"The upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act will be an opportunity to focus on runaway college costs and promote a system of shared responsibility among all stakeholders," Harkin said. "I look forward to learning more about the President's proposals—and to working with senators on both sides of the aisle—as the Senate HELP Committee begins the process of reauthorizing the HEA this fall."

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Corrected on : Corrected 8/22/13: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa., as a Republican.