President Barack Obama's Education Reform Met With Skepticism


Faculty members and advocates were let down by President Barack Obama's speech on education at the State University of New York at Buffalo Thursday, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Many educators were supportive of Obama because of his history as an educator. The President taught law at the University of Chicago and has been an advocate for higher education throughout his campaign and presidency.

Faculty advocates, like the American Association of University Professor (AAUP), were not surprised at Obama's approach, but were still disappointed.

"This doesn't really surprise me - I didn't really have any illusions as to the positions he had," said Rudy Fichtenbaum, AAUP president and a professor of economics at Wright State University. "When he picked Arne Duncan [a proponent of the controversial Common Core initiative to standardize K-12 education] to be the secretary of education, that sort of set the tone for where his educational policy would be headed."

Some faculty members and advocates labeled Obama's new proposal to lower the cost of tuition and make college more accessible and higher education's version of "No Child Left Behind." The proposal, they said, does not guarantee student learning, but still focuses on calculable outcomes like graduation rates.

The skepticism was mainly placed on the President's introduction of a rating system for colleges. The system would allot funds to higher-ranking schools, making better schools more accessible for students.

"I think that colleges will be looking at ratings - looking at who's getting the highest rating - and that will begin to drive [where they invest] their money," Fichtenbaum said. He also noted this could take funds away from full-time faculty members and force non-elite colleges to adopt a standardized curriculum.

Other people skeptic of the plan pointed to financial cutbacks forcing public universities to hike up their tuition to remain open. This, Aaron Bady, Ph.D. candidate in African literature at the University of California at Berkeley, said makes it difficult for such schools to offer a high-quality and low-cost education.

"The idea that ranking universities according to new metrics will do anything to lower costs seems delusional; a lack of information is simply not the problem," he said. "The problem is the lack of good choices, the fact that cutbacks to higher education funding have so degraded the ability of public universities to provide a low-cost quality education; the lack of good public options as an alternative to private and for-profit education is what makes a degree so expensive."

Obama's plan did have its supporters, however. Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University said the plan is a much-needed reform to the current business model for many universities.

"I think all of the stakeholders are trying to solve different problems and what the president is basically saying is we have one problem - i.e., the unsustainable nature of the current system," LeBlanc said. "And that problem is trumping all other problems."

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