Friday, September 24, 2010

Repeating Failure

by Daniel L. Bennett

Lindsey Burke at the Heritage Foundation wrote yesterday about yet another Obamination of a policy proposal. It seems that the White House is intent on repeating failed history, as it has proposed
expanding the power of states to authorize higher education institutions
This smells to me a lot like the now defunct State Postsecondary Review Entities (SPRE) which were created in the 1992 Higher Education Act. Never really getting off their feet, they were officially disbanded in the 1998 HEA. It also seems to me that the Department of Education knows that it cannot successfully evaluate and monitor all of the colleges which are the recipients of billions of federal aid dollars and that it can't rely on the accreditors either.

So what is ED's solution? It wants to pass the torch to the states, which have little incentive to take on the role, in hopes that it can pick up the slack. If I were a governor or member of a state legislature, I would resist the federal government's efforts to bully my state into new regulatory imperatives.

When will these folks in Washington realize that it is not the lack of regulation that has lead to widespread academic malfeasance, but rather the fact that exorbitant government subsidies have created a perverse incentive for economic rent-seeking in higher ed? It seems to be the Washington way to create a ticking time bomb and then find someone to point the finger at when it blows up (Wall Street for the housing bubble; For-profit colleges for the college debt bubble). Our system of higher ed certainly is in need of much more accountability, but our political system has a more dire need for accountability.

1 comment:

Glen S. McGhee said...

It took years for the states (for the ones that did) to get their SPREs ready, but the push-back from the colleges and universities, once they realized what was about to happen, was fatal.

This was the immediate cause of COPA's demise, and CHEA's eventual emergence. COPA just didn't see it coming, and when it hit, college presidents went "apoplectic."

But don't forget that before the regional accreditors were given a monopoly on quality assurance, this was already shared by the states. For example, in Florida until the late 1960s, it was shared, with 30% of the standards in common, 30% that contradicted each other, and 30% with nothing in common, as one study at the time showed.

Those entering this debate need to have a better grasp of previous history in order to better make sense of the problems we are now facing.