College presidents' opinions vary on Obama's college plan

Columbia College's interim president told KRCG 13 Friday evening he thinks President Obama's proposed college rating system is well-intended but would cause more problems than it would solve.

The rating system idea is pivotal to the proposals Obama unveiled at a speech in Buffalo Thursday. It would rate colleges based on how well its students are prepared for their careers considering how much they paid. If that system was in place, the president would then ask Congress to tie federal grant money to colleges' performance on that metric.

Columbia College interim president Terry Smith said the problem with tying federal aid to a rating system is that different colleges serve different populations. Smith said his institution could not be rated using the same criteria as MU because Columbia College has so many students who are adults taking courses at its satellite campuses or online.

"The federal government is going to have to say, to places like us, 'Okay, we've got these two different scales. One for your traditional students, and this other, very different one for your adult students' because they're not at all alike," he said.

Other parts of Obama's proposal include pushing colleges to modify their education programs, such as expanding online programs and awarding credits based on academic performance, and expanding Smith did not dispute the extent of student debt but said a better alternative would be to restrict federal student loans to academic use including tuition and room and board.

Lincoln University president Kevin Rome said he supports any effort that would lead to more college graduates but cautioned the federal government could not tackle the problem alone.

"What we really need to do is have states invest more in higher education and the federal government come up with practical programs that work for students," he said.

In his Thursday speech, Obama said he was directing education secretary Arne Duncan to create the ratings system. Tying federal aid to such a system would require Congressional approval, as would most of the president's other proposals. With the legislature divided and the 2014 elections approaching, passing any one of these proposals is far from certain.

Mark Slavit contributed to this report.