Thursday, November 08, 2007

Some Progress Is Being Made

By Richard Vedder

I am alternatively pessimistic and optimistic about American higher education. This week, however, there has been some good news. More institutions are starting to go tuition free for a larger number of lower and even middle income applicants, even elite secondary schools like Exeter. But the really great news was that over 250 schools allowed USA Today to publish the results for their schools on the National Survey of Student Engagement --Nessie to higher education junkies.

I am turning the Whiz Kids loose on the Nessie data. We are trying to find out if student engagement varies with institutional type, or whether institutions with more engaged students have other common characteristics (in short, we are running tons of regression equations). It is too early to predict the final results, but the fact that more schools are willing to let the world know something about their students and how they use their time in college is reassuring. To be sure, for every school letting USA Today do this, there were three that did not. They need to be harassed, pressured, ostracized, until they come clean. And some other schools need to start using the Nessie instrument.

The Nessie is not a perfect test --I don't know if one exists. It has its limitations --it does not really measure learning, for example. But it gives us some perspective on how students perceive the challenges of college, whether they feel neglected or embraced, etc. That is useful information to consumers, and USA Today, Nessie, and participating colleges are to be congratulated.

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