That Old College Lie
Are our colleges teaching students well? No. But here's how to make them.
The key is bringing transparency to higher education:
There’s a solution to these problems, but it won’t come from more tinkering with student aid programs. The key to giving students a better, more affordable education turns out to be focusing less on college financial aid and more on college itself. We must fundamentally change the relationship between the federal government and higher education, forcing institutions that receive vast amounts of public funding to provide a modicum of useful information in return. The time has come to rip open the veil of secrecy that has shrouded higher education for as long as students have walked next to ivy-covered walls, and to use that information to build far more effective, more egalitarian, and more student-focused colleges than we have today.
Not too surprisingly, the colleges themselves fight the solution tooth and nail:
There’s only one thing standing in the way: One of the most powerful special interests lobbies that nobody’s ever heard of. The most reactionary education lobby in Washington, D.C., isn’t located at the 16th Street headquarters of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union. It’s less than a mile away, at 1 Dupont Circle. That’s where the American Council on Education (ACE), the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), and a host of other alphabet-soup organizations conspire to maintain higher education secrecy at all costs. Long-established colleges that enjoy the benefits of the existing, information-starved reputation market dominate 1 Dupont.
Three recent examples illustrate the lengths to which they’ll go. To get colleges to participate in their surveys and tests, NSSE and the CLA had to strike a bargain. Colleges would control the results–the data would remain secret unless colleges chose otherwise. Then, in 2006, Mark Schneider, the commissioner of the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, proposed adding some new questions to the annual survey all colleges are required to fill out in exchange for federal funds. Colleges would be asked if they participated in surveys and tests like NSSE and the CLA. If the college answered "yes," and had already chosen to make the data public, it would be asked to provide a link to the appropriate Web address. It would not be required to participate in any test or survey not of its choosing, or disclose any new information. It would just have to tell people where to find the information it had already, voluntarily, disclosed. One Dupont Circle rose up in anger and the proposal was summarily squashed. For his temerity, Schneider was nearly fired.