Somewhere in the U.S. Education Department, statistical experts and policymakers are at work on a highly controversial idea: A federal system to rate colleges based on their quality, much as Consumer Reports rates refrigerators.
Many colleges hate this idea, and it turns out the uproar is nothing new. The forerunner of the modern Education Department tried a similar idea in 1911. At the time, colleges opposed the federal quality ratings so bitterly that two American presidents eventually intervened to halt their publication.
Quality ratings spent 102 years as a third rail of higher education policy. Then, last August, President Obama revived the proposal for a federal rating system. He quickly found out the idea hasn't become any less controversial in the past century.