Friday, August 10, 2007

Accountability: Coming to a College Near You?

By Bryan O’Keefe

As anybody who has read this blog in the past already knows, the lack of accountability in higher education is a major concern and could, in the long-term, threaten the quality that has defined American colleges and universities. Rich has said many times “How do we know if Harvard had a good year?” and the answer, of course, is that we have no idea. This is even more troubling since higher education has exploded in cost and a college degree is – rightly or wrongly – perceived as a necessity for many jobs in today’s workforce. As consumers, we usually don’t spend large amounts of money on items without at least having a tangential idea of the results. US News and World Reports has filled this void to some degree, but we have quibbled with them over whether they are actually measuring anything meaningful.

For the most part, colleges have resisted greater accountability. Many folks in higher education think they are above this sort of stuff and they especially cry bloody murder when you try to talk about higher education in any sort of business context. But there are finally some signs that the times might be changing.

David Wessel at the Wall Street Journal had an important column yesterday where he discusses an effort by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (big research universities) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to bring some accountability to higher ed. The two groups are jointly developing a template which colleges can use to show certain data such as admission rates, graduation rates, costs, results from student surveys, and (this is the biggie) results of tests given to students to show how much they really learned in college.

A few caveats – it seems from Wessel’s article that all of this will be voluntary and left up to the colleges to self-report, which means that the data might not end up being objective. But we have to start somewhere and this is definitely a step in the right direction.

We will follow this development over the next couple of months and see if higher education really is embracing accountability.

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