President Obama is unveiling his new college rating system today, described as sweeping, and based in part of an institution’s affordability. He will announce the changes from his two-day bus tour.

So you think this means an incentive for colleges and universities to come up with ways to make their tuition fees more manageable? Well, sure there’s some lip service to that laudable end and I note that media outlets are presenting it that way. But basically that doesn’t seem to be the thrust. As the AP reports:

Obama is also seeking legislation to link the new rating system to the way federal financial aid is awarded, with students attending highly-rated schools receiving larger grants and more affordable student loans. …

So, if you’re going to Harvard, you get a better deal on your loan?

Gee whiz. Is that what passes for democracy in action these days?

The problem really is not student loan terms or that President Obama needs to come up with a new rating system. The problem is that college costs too much. In part, it costs too much because the federal government and student loans. Colleges have no incentive to control costs because Uncle Sam is there with his checkbook. But isn’t it criminal to encourage young people to graduate from four-year public colleges with a $26,000 debt, the usual load of a typical student borrower?

There is one excellent provision in the president’s new rating system: a college’s graduation rate will be evaluated. As it stands now, some greedy colleges accept marginal students and encourage them to go into debt. Dropping out doesn’t cancel the debts. So, if graduation rates are being scrutinized, colleges might be more careful. But what we really need is a sweeping plan to make college more affordable.

AEI head Arthur Brooks wrote a famous New York Times opinion piece headlined “My Valuable, Cheap College Degree.” Brooks’ degree cost a total of $10,000. That’s not just one year—that’s the whole shebang. Brooks did something creative–and you can't say he hasn't done well on his inexpensive college degree. I wish President Obama had that kind of creativity!