Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Commandment #1: Provide Better Information About Universities

Commandment #1: Provide better information about universities by making virtually all university operations open to public scrutiny and provide data on the "value added" to students by their attendance

By Daniel Bennett

Students, parents and policy makers are often left in the dark without a flashlight when it comes to having digestible information about our nation's colleges and universities. This prevents the making of well-informed and rational decisions, as well as enabling some colleges to get away with highway robbery. If we are going to seriously reform higher education, then we need institutions to
(1)begin an era of fiscal responsibility,
(2) start tracking data that speaks to the value that it adds and
(3) be transparent about what is going on inside the walls of the ivory tower by making this information publicly available.
For too long, higher education has been protected from public scrutiny in the name of retaining an autonomous institution that creates and disseminates knowledge. Many educational leaders now describe students as consumers. If this is the case, and I suspect that it is, then these consumers deserve information that will allow them to make more informed (and therefore better and more rational) decisions, especially in a time when tuition continues to spiral upward.

This information should include not only resource inputs, such as standardized test scores, alumni giving and average class sizes, but also information on the quality of instruction and budget expenditures. Lastly, value-added information on learning outcomes, graduation and job placement rates should be available. If colleges are going to continue to be the benefactor of taxpayer's dollars and a significant burden on familial resources as the training grounds for tomorrow's leaders, then it is high time that they start ponying up information on how they are using these vast portions of American wealth and what value they are adding to individual lives and society -- and make it Publicly available!

Smalls steps have been taken by groups such as the American Enterprise Institute, which recently released a report on graduation rates and dropouts, the Delta Cost Project, which recently released a report on Trends in Higher Education Spending, and of course the Center for College Affordability & Productivity, with recent reports on Net Tuition and the College Labor Force, to make information about university behavior public. There still lies a long road ahead with many obstacles to overcome, but the commandment has been spoken and we will work tirelessly to ensure that it is fulfilled.

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