Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Charles Miller Is Right --But Does It Matter?

By Richard Vedder

I have been infuriated by how colleges and universities, afraid of having more light shine on them and their operations, are lobbying Congress to keep the Department of Education from using the accreditation mechanism as a way to implement Spellings Commission recommendations on accountability, assessment, and transparency.

In chatting with my friend Charles Miller, chair of the Spellings Commission, about this, he opined: "What we are seeing today in the nation's capital is no different from what happens with other mature, inefficient economic sectors and industries. A run to Congress for protection." AMEN. Charles hit the nail on the head.

It is absolutely vital in any higher education reform to learn more about what students know or learn or how they think, and to convey this and other useful consumer information to the public. Margaret Spellings realizes this, and she is courageously trying to effect change via her power as "accreditor to the accreditors." She has been thwarted, successfully in the short run it seems, by the Educational Establishment. Shame. Shame. Shame. To be sure, I am worried about federal intrusion into higher education, but Spellings is trying to reform a monopolistic cartel of regulators run by the regulatees it is trying to regulate. Indeed, I wonder if the accrediting process is attackable under the anti-trust laws, legislation that generally speaking I think is worthless but may have some use here.

On the plus side, key establishment organizations like AASCU and NASULGC and their leaders, Deno Curris and Peter McPherson, are saying all the right things (interestingly, Peter is also chairing the board of Dow Jones during a particularly exciting period in that firm's life). They are saying "We want to publish lots of information on our members, including, voluntarily, key data like scores on the National Survey of Student Engagement or the Collegiate Learning Assessment." Even NAICU, the most anti-reformist group led by David Warren, is making the right sounds. Putting Warren in charge of higher education reform would make as much sense as making Lorena Bobbitt or Dr. Kevorkian the Surgeon General, but David is saying some of the right things on this issue. Sounds great, and I hope it happens, but I worry about backpedaling after the heat dies now a bit on this issue. Miller says we need to put the pressure on, and he is right. The American Enterprise Institute, in cooperation with CCAP, will be having a college accreditation conference in Washington on September 21 which should be very interesting.

Stay tuned.

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