Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Maybe I Didn't Waste My Time

By Richard Vedder

Just before heading off on a little winter vacation, I read two things in INSIDE HIGHER ED that warms my heart. I had served on the Spellings Commission and was beginning to believe my wife, who claimed I was wasting my time -- nothing would come of the recommendations.

First, I read that the Ed Department means business in pushing accreditors to actually do something meaningful to improve quality in higher education rather than merely driving up costs through arcane barriers to entry that they impose. The accreditors are upset, which I suspect is good news for Americans who want the accreditors to provide information that allows them to evaluate colleges, or at least assure them about colleges meeting minimal standards of quality.

Second, the private sector, as usual, is out front in actually DOING things, rather than talking. The Spellings Commission harped on the need for better assessment, for the measurement of outcomes, etc. Blackboard, the giant course management company, is moving forward on course assessment programs for universities. Maybe they will help us learn whether the kids are learning anything, whether graduates are actually getting jobs, etc. The big question is: will colleges buy their services and then actually use the results to improve higher education? Blackboard joins other smaller firms, and thus furthers the development of something that needs nurturing.

Heading South, where temperatures are higher, but where there is less hot air than in the academy and Washington, my usual wintertime haunts. However, this space will be filled with blogs in the coming days -- stay tuned.

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