NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Counting on a marketing strategy that recalls an election-style campaign, the Obama administration kicked off its plan to promote a new college ranking system today with a two-day campus bus tour.
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The bus tour approach suggests that the ranking system has a long way to go before any tangible results are yielded. The plan comes from the Oval Office, but any reallocation of federal aid would need the assent of Congress. President Barack Obama has made the reduction of college tuition a "personal mission."
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What the rankings consist of aren't crystal clear, but the plan will likely dovetail with a planned reauthorization of the 1965 Higher Education Act, which expires at the end of the year. Higher ranking schools would qualify for bigger federal education grants. The hope is that if Uncle Sam contributes more cash, tuition will be reduced. A higher ranking is expected to be an incentive to maintain lowered costs.
A revenue source that is beyond the reach of Washington is the contribution of state governments, which have declined significantly.
The tour itself is limited geographically and doesn't stray far from upstate New York. Obama's first stop is the University of Buffalo before moving on to a high school in Syracuse and then Binghamton University, before winding up at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Penn, birthplace of vice president Joe Biden, who is expected to join the tour at some point. The Buffalo and Binghamton campuses are part of the State University of New York (SUNY), known for its relatively low tuition and high academic standards--schools that are not the most in need of a fix from the federal government but perhaps models to emulate.
In the email to supporters, Obama admitted that the ranking system "won't be popular with everyone, including some who made higher education their business." Obama has been faulted for placing business and testing ahead of education and access when it comes to post-secondary education.
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Critics have already compared Obama's existing policies to those of the previous Bush administration. Many consider Obama's Race to the Top an extension of Bush's No Child Left Behind.
--Written by John Sandman for MainStreet