In a recent speech in Syracuse, N.Y., President Barack Obama offered up one fact that speaks volumes about what has gone wrong with higher education: During the past three decades, the average price of a four-year degree at a public university has risen by 250 percent, while average family income has risen by just 16 percent.

People are still going to college, in ever greater numbers.

Obama now proposes to help families navigate this challenge by providing scorecards that would rank colleges, and by rewarding those colleges that produce the best results. The ratings, which he said would be ready by 2015, will include measures such as average tuition, the share of low-income students they enroll, graduation rates, average debt and even average income after graduation.

Some of this information is available today in scattered places, but Obama would put it under one roof, with easily accessible software. And average incomes of graduates are not currently available to the public.

The idea behind the rating system is sound. It will help families make smart choices with one of the biggest investments of their lives. And it will give colleges new incentive to measure up.

Like any tool, this one could be misused.

Obama can build the rating system on his own without the consent of Congress. The political challenge will come in 2018, when he hopes the ratings will be linked to federal aid programs.

Obama will be gone by then, so perhaps Republicans will have stopped trying to repeal “Obamacare” and will have some time to examine the idea on its merits. One can dream.

– Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J., Aug. 25