Tuesday, January 01, 2008

2007: More Rhetoric Than Substance

By Richard Vedder

2007 was a year with a lot of promising rhetoric in higher education. Several of the leading associations of universities indicated a desire to comply with the Spellings Commission recommendations regarding developing better measures of assessing student performance and providing greater transparency in operations. A number of schools froze tuition, sometimes under state government mandate, and Harvard announced its plan to significantly lower costs for a large portion of its students. So it would seem to have been a year of some promise, some beginnings of fundamental reform.

Yet I am skeptical that much really happened. Average tuition levels rose at double the inflation rate as usual. Schools did not do an awful lot in terms of actual actions to implement a transparent policy of reporting what students were learning. There were a lot of committees formed, but little action. Attempts to use accreditation as a club to force some reform were essentially unsuccessful, as the forces of reaction dominated over the forces of reform. That was deeply disappointing.

I feel that tangible, sustained, meaningful reform will not occur until some of the fundamentals are altered --third party payments are brought into check, the for profit sector grows enough to be a real force of reform of traditional schools, taxpayers start demanding accountability, etc. There were some signs in 2007 that those things were starting to happen, but not enough to instill confidence that a leaner, more efficient, more accountable, more transparent system of higher education delivery is coming.

Let us hope for more in 2008. CCAP will be pushing for change. We hope the presidential candidates will start taking an interest in the issue as well. Stay tuned.

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