By Richard Vedder
The big news, if there was any, from yesterday's final meeting of the Secretary of Education's National Commission on the Future of Higher Education was not the relatively bland nature of the recommendations, but rather the failure of David Ward, the President of the American Council of Education, to support it. Of the 19 commissioners, Ward was alone in his dissent.
As I said prior to voting, accepting the report was a tough decision for me --only because I thought it was not hard-hitting enough, not mentioning many key factors (e.g., grade inflation, curricular incoherence) at all, and also being only moderately strong on the issues closest to CCAP --- affordability, efficiency, and productivity. But in the final analysis, the report did make some important and useful recommendaitons, so I supported it.
David Ward, an amiable and thoughtful man who is truly the chief Mandarin of DuPont Circle and the titular head of HEE (the Higher Education Establishment) in his role as President of the American Council of Education, was in a tough position, since several organizations of colleges opposed the report, in some cases almost rabidly, while one or two showed cautious support. As head of the umbrella organization that covers the entire establishment, David was in a bind, and his vote was understandable.
Yet this points out the problem. A large part of the higher education community just doesn't get it: Americans are increasingly fed up with the indifference of universities to issues such as soaring tuition costs. The Ward vote is a sign that, on average, universities are going to fiercely support the status quo, fight innovation, oppose accountability and transparency --yet still demand our financial support. It is time to tie public support for higher education (which is increasingly indefensible, in my judgment, on the basis of any rational analysis) to performance --keeping costs down, showing signs of learning improvements, etc.
By the way, kudos are to be given to Bob Mendenhall, president of Western Governors University, an innovative Internet institution, who says he is holding the line on tuition next year, and is starting to make public that school's already commendable data on measuring student progress , etc. Bob already is carrying rhetoric into action. We need more people like President Mendenhall in higher education.