PRESIDENT Obama deserves credit for using his bully pulpit to address the crisis in college affordability.
Especially admirable is his insistence that institutions must control their costs, instead of jacking up tuition and passing the expense on to students, as they have for decades.
It's a message courageously directed at a portion of Obama's own political base: the progressive types who run most campuses and who would much prefer some sort of state and federal bailout to painful budget-cutting.
I wish the president's higher-ed speech in Buffalo last week had specifically cited the bloated ranks of highly paid campus administrators, but he did forthrightly say that "not enough colleges have been working to figure out how do we control costs, how do we cut back on costs."
Unfortunately, Obama's policy prescriptions - more aid and loans to students, coupled with pay-for-performance bonuses for schools - range from tepid to counterproductive.
His headline idea was to have the Education Department rank institutions by "value" and, eventually, to link schools' share of federal student aid to the rankings.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, frets that "imposing an arbitrary college ranking system could curtail the very innovation we hope to encourage - and even lead to federal price controls."
That's a phony issue.
With $220 billion in state and federal money flowing into higher education each year, it's not exactly a free market; it's perfectly reasonable to talk about leveraging Washington's market power.
Or do Republicans think we should keep shoveling taxpayer dollars into higher ed, no strings attached?
Effectiveness is the real shortcoming of the president's idea.
Consumers can never have too much information, so, by all means, create a federal scorecard that students and parents can consult along with the U.S. News and World Report ratings and whatever else.
But "value" in education is notoriously difficult to define, much less quantify, so it's likely that schools would figure out how to game Obama's new system, assuming they don't lobby it to death first.