Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Good News Story: Sometimes the Establishment Listens

By Richard Vedder

There are many good, decent persons in higher education, people who want to perform their missions well. Some of them have responded to criticisms leveled by the Spellings Commission in a positive, not negative, way.

I have been generally pleased by the actions of three groups: the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AACSU), and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) to try and meet the challenges of finding ways to measure student performance, and devising metrics that answer the question: what do colleges do that are worth-while for their customers, other than give them a piece of paper worth seemingly hundreds of thousands of dollars?

The Department of Education has given these groups $2.4 million to help them evaluate the assessments already out (e.g., tests like the Collegiate Learning Assessment), and devise strategies to implement the Spellings Commission recommendations. I think it is better to have these groups do it rather than have some government mandate come down that the tenured professoriate and administrators will largely ignore, avoid, and fight in court.

At the same time, the cynical side of me says this could be a shrewd political move to deflect regulation in this area, and the finished product may be some watered down and meaningless ideas that do little to inform consumers of the value added by higher education. I hope the idealistic side of me is right, and the cynical side is wrong. However, I note that the independent colleges (NAICU) are on the sidelines in this new effort --surprise, surprise. Time will tell which perspective is correct, an optimistic or pessimistic one.

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