Look beyond the opening lines about the “especially admirable” statements President Obama has made regarding college affordability, and Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane offers a pretty good view of some key problems in the American system of higher education.

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.

After some requisite Republican bashing, Lane offers more interesting analysis:

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.

As for student aid, what the president can’t bring himself to admit is that federal tuition subsidies — whether Pell grants or cheap loans — have contributed to the problem.