Last year, the Obama Administration announced a plan to assess schools on how well they serve their students, based on metrics like graduation rate, tuition, and the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, the federally funded scholarships for low-income families. For a system that has yet to be put in place, the White House’s college ratings have created a great deal of panic.
To see how those ratings might play out, TIME gathered data for 2,500 college and universities and ranked them according to the proposed metrics. But we’ve left it to you to adjust how important each of those metrics should be. Adjust the sliders, and watch the the schools reshuffle.
As Haley Sweetland Edwards notes in the most recent issue of TIME, many college presidents are convinced that the ratings proposed by the Obama administration would fail to capture the value of their schools. The White House insists that far too many sub-par schools are cashing in on federal student loans and leaving their students in the lurch.
The White House is proposing to take a bunch a date of data about schools and determine a rank for each. This would produce an algorithm that functions in many ways like Google’s ranking of Web pages. In the case of search engines, the exact nature of this algorithm is a secret. The White House’s algorithm will presumably not be secret, meaning it will be quite easy for schools to game the system.
That sounds like a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to be. When algorithms work well, they reward good behavior. In the same way that the Google algorithm rewards sites that offer clear descriptions of the content and coherent navigation, a good college ranking algorithm could inspire schools to offer better grants to those who can’t afford the tuition and provide help for those at risk of dropping out. A poorly designed algorithm, meanwhile, could incentivize them to shut out students who have lower statistical odds of graduating.
The interactive at the top of this article presents a simplified rating system based on three qualities the White House has mentioned: Graduation rate, accessibility and affordability. For accessibility, the interactive uses the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants. For affordability, we’ve used the net cost paid by families who makes less than $110,000 a year and receive some form of aid.
By rewarding both accessibility and graduation rate, this system corners one of the trickiest problems facing schools looking to climb the rankings: Students from low-income backgrounds are statistically less likely to graduate. The most expedient way for a school to boost its graduate rate would be not to admit students in this cohort. Doing so, however, would theoretically hurt the school in the accessibility category more than it boosted the school in the graduation category, resulting in a drop in the ratings. At least, this is how a good White House algorithm would work. Fine-tuning the formula to work as advertised would require a sophisticated statistical analysis of the data. In the meantime, you can drag the sliders around to see which schools would rise to the top given existing numbers.
All data comes from the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Each school is evaluated according to its six-year graduation rate, the percentage of full-time, first-time undergraduates receiving Pell grants and the net cost for students receiving any form of aid whose families make less than $110,000 a year. That figure is calculated by TIME as the weighted average net cost for students in each of the Department of Education’s reported income brackets. Where that data is not available, overall net cost (tuition and fees minus grants and scholarships) is used.
These three data points are standardized, so that each school’s score is the number of standard deviations above or below the mean. The app then adjusts these values according to the position of the sliders, sums the square roots of those values, and takes the square of the sum. (A detailed discussion of that method is available here.)
The classifications of schools come from the Carnegie classification system. Schools without a Carnegie class are not included.
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Russia has once again focused attention on the question of America’s international role. There is, across the political spectrum, a strong streak of anti-interventionism which holds that we should minimize our involvement abroad except for clear-cut national security purposes. In this view, the United States should avoid not only any non-defensive use of military force but any exercise of its power to influence world affairs — especially for “moral” causes such as human rights or democracy. Leftists wary of American power deplore what they see as President Obama’s continuation of his predecessors’ imperialist policies. Libertarians and libertarian conservatives wary of government power and foreign entanglements, such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and his father, ex-Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, reject what they see as the mindless hawkishness of the mainstream Republican Party.MoreFederal Judges Order Release of Targeted Killing DocsWhite House Debates ‘Game Changer’ Weapon for SyriaMen Charged With Toppling Ancient Rock Formation Avoid Jail Time Huffington PostHere's An Updated Tally Of All The People Who Have Ever Died From A Marijuana Overdose Huffington PostGet the Look: Whitney Port's Pretty Dinner Table People
Caution about adventures abroad, which have cost the United States dearly in lost lives and morale as well as money in the past decade, is entirely sensible. But a prudent foreign policy is not the same as an American retreat from an active global role — which would be bad for the world, bad for Americans and, at the risk of lapsing into Team America cliché, bad for freedom. Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If the United States scales back its presence on the international scene, others will step up to fill the gap.Popular Among Subscribers Barbara Brown Taylor Faces the Darkness Subscribe Shinzo Abe: The PatriotThe Blindness of Bigotry
Vladimir Putin’s Russia, as the latest events starkly remind us, is seeking to reclaim its great-power status — under the banner of an explicitly authoritarian ideology, this time in “conservative” colors. A shadowy guru of the Putin regime, political theorist Alexander Dugin (head of a think tank at Moscow State University who has close ties to top government figures and is directly involved in stirring up pro-Russian separatism in Ukraine) speaks of Russia as a central player in the struggle against Western “liberal hegemony” with its principles of “the free market… parliamentarian democracy, human rights, and absolute individualism.” Putin may not share this messianic vision, but he is quite likely to use it purpose of maintaining his power; indeed, Dugin’s idea of an anti-liberal coalition of radical religious, right-wing nationalist, and far-left socialist forces is startlingly similar to the Kremlin’s actual alliances.
Elsewhere, there is resurgent radical Islamism, often vying for control with brutal secular tyrannies; there is China, combining capitalist-style economic success with communist political dictatorship. A world in which these forces are dominant, and able to spread their influence, will not be a freedom-friendly one.
Would this affect Americans? Even aside from the moral dimension of abandoning our present-day democratic allies — and, say, standing by while Poland is brought back under Russia’s boot — the interconnected world of the 21st Century is a reality. Anti-interventionist libertarians and conservatives nearly always support free trade; but international trade, and American business abroad, would not fare well under the ascendancy of authoritarian nationalism in other countries. At best, American companies would have to deal with repressive regimes that use the benefits of trade to solidify their power, which they may later use against U.S. interests. At worst, they may see their foreign assets seized by lawless governments, or their local employees terrorized and persecuted (like Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer working for a U.S. investment fund who died in prison after being framed for fraud).
Such abuses would sorely test the limits of American non-interference. So would inevitable collisions between American freedoms and authoritarian regimes and movements around the world — from the “corrupting” influence of American culture to the “subversive” work of émigré dissidents living in the U.S. or of American activists and private organizations promoting human rights. This factor alone makes it very unlikely that, as proponents of retrenchment often claim, anti-Americanism would wane if we only stopped “meddling” — particularly since authoritarians and extremists often assume that all private activity and expression in the U.S. takes place with the government’s blessing. Russians obsessed with American subversion barely distinguish between George Soros’s Open Society Foundation and the CIA; Islamist radicals attacked U.S. diplomatic missions and American schools over the YouTube video, “Innocence of Muslims.”
To some extent, the neo-isolationist trend is an understandable result of the fiasco in Iraq, which started as a grandiose experiment in the use of American power for democracy-building. It is sobering to recall that in 2003, not only neoconservative hawks but many liberals and even libertarians supported what was officially known as “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Shortly before its launch, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “It is not unreasonable to believe that if the U.S. removed Saddam and helped Iraqis build not an overnight democracy but a more accountable, progressive and democratizing regime, it would have a positive, transforming effect on the entire Arab world.” In retrospect, it does seem vastly unreasonable to stake a war on such a big “if” — on the hope that a country with no base for democratic self-government, decades of brutal dictatorship, and deep tribal and religious divisions could be steered toward stable democratization by an occupying force.
But the Iraq Syndrome has generated its own myths and knee-jerk reactions. Among those is an oversimplification of the Iraq war itself, often portrayed (both by leftists and Ron Paul libertarians) as a criminal act of wanton slaughter by the U.S. In reality, nearly 90 percent of war-related Iraqi deaths were at the hands of other Iraqis in sectarian or insurgent violence — and numerous surveys over the years have found Iraqis themselves consistently ambivalent about the invasion, with just over a quarter calling it “absolutely wrong” and three out of four agreeing that Saddam Hussein’s removal was worth it. A similarly simplistic narrative of American evildoing shows up in denunciations of drone strikes, which even some critics grudgingly admit are far less deadly to civilians than either terrorist attacks or anti-terror operations by the domestic military in the same regions.
The anti-interventionist tendency to demonize America’s actions is often paralleled by a bias against the U.S.-backed side in foreign conflicts and in favor of the opposing side — which can lead to defending the reprehensible. Ron Paul has portrayed Iran as a victim of American bullying while casting the solitary vote against a 2009 U.S. House resolution condemning the Iranian regime’s violent crackdown on protests against perceived election fraud; more recently, he has defended Russia’s annexation of Crimea, arguing that the referendum under Russian guns was no less fair than elections in U.S.-occupied Iraq (as if Iraqis in those elections were pressured to vote for becoming an American colony). Glenn Greenwald, the lawyer-turned-journalist and crusader against America’s imperialist “National Security State,” has commented on the Russia-Ukraine crisis only to praise the Kremlin’s foreign-consumption propaganda network, Russia Today, for allowing host Abby Martin to make a brief on-air statement criticizing the invasion of Crimea — without mentioning the Putin regime’s ongoing crackdown on dissenting media at home.
Even Rand Paul, far more mainstream than his father, initially suggested that the U.S. mustn’t “tweak” Russia and should respect its interest in keeping Ukraine “within [its] sphere.” Yet, as Russian aggression escalated, he shifted to a more hardline position, calling for the U.S. to be “a global leader” in punishing and isolating Russia. While Sen. Paul stressed that our response should not involve military action, he did propose resuming the missile shield program in Eastern Europe (with the caveat that European nations should pay for it). This shift may reflect Sen. Paul’s response to changing circumstances; but it may also reflect his realization that anyone wanting to be a serious contender in American politics should have a vision for an active U.S. role on the world stage.
Obviously, the U.S. should tread carefully in using its muscle in foreign conflicts, especially when there may be no best-case scenario in sight and no minimally reliable friends. (Syria may well have been one such situation.) But prudence does not equal abdication. There are meaningful things we can do to support pro-freedom forces where they exist and to exert some check on aggressive anti-freedom regimes.
Writing recently on the independent Russian website Grani.ru, dissident writer and left-wing activist Alexander Skobov noted that today’s conflict between Russia and the West was not so much a clash of civilizations as a “clash of systems”: “The essential difference between them lies in who has ‘primacy’: the individual or the state, society or the ‘elite’? The conflict over this issue is not between civilizations but within each of them. Every state seeks to dominate the individual; every elite seeks to dominate society. But some countries have succeeded at developing a set of institutions that limit the power of the state and the elite over the individual and society, while others have not.”
Obviously, these institutions don’t always work. Yet, while the United States and the other capitalist liberal democracies may be very far from either the libertarian ideal of freedom or the progressive ideal of social justice, the unvarnished truth is that it’s only within this loosely knit global community — the “global liberal hegemony” deplored by far-left and far-right radicals — that these ideals have any chance to survive and develop. A world in which these values are on the ascendancy rather than in retreat is very much a part of our national interest.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63.
Several alleged gas attacks on Syrian opposition groups this month have raised fears that forces loyal to embattled President Bashar Assad are continuing to use chemical weapons.
On Tuesday, opposition groups uploaded videos of people choking and convulsing after a substance rebels say is chlorine gas was fired on civilians. One boy died in a hospital near the Turkish border despite receiving treatment, The Daily Telegraph reports.
“We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical — probably chlorine — in Syria this month in the opposition-dominated village of Kfar Zeita,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
“We’re examining allegations that the government was responsible. We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat use very seriously.”
Government officials from France and the U.K., have also said that there are strong “indications” that the Syrian government is using gas against civilians. Rebels say that helicopters have dropped bombs with chlorine canisters in several attacks since April 11.
Psaki stressed that no loophole in the in the international deal to remove Syria’s chemical weapons would allow chlorine to be deployed on the battlefield, despite the substance not being specifically listed on the agreement. The deal was struck after a sarin gas attack on civilians in August 2013.
“[The deal] prohibits the use of any toxic chemical, including chlorine, with the intent to kill or incapacitate people, regardless of whether it’s specifically listed or not in the schedule of chemicals,” she said. “The use of any toxic chemical with the intent to cause death or harm is a clear violation of the convention.”
On Tuesday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said the Assad regime had handed over more than 86% of its chemical weapons stockpiles, including 88.7% of all Priority 1 chemicals.