Two Mistakes

One is by the Department of Education, and one is by “some college presidents.”

Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said he wants accreditors to “do more to address substandard and underperforming institutions” by focusing their efforts on weak schools while reviewing elite schools less rigorously.

Sure. Because the Harvards and Dartmouths of college-dom are such paragons of free speech, diversity of ideas, and quality teaching. Never mind that elite school elite professors spend more of their time doing government-funded research than they spend in the classroom doing actual teaching.

The “college presidents'” mistake is this:

[S]ome college presidents worry that judging schools by things like graduation rates could mean that high-risk students will have less access to higher education.

If these schools have poor graduation rates, to what education have their students had access? These college presidents are conflating access to higher education institutions with access to higher education. Apparently, they don’t take their own institutions’ Logic 101 courses seriously. Or those courses are poorly taught.

Left unaddressed by both is another matter, described by a college president who’s willing to be named. John Bassett, President of Heritage University, is on the right track.

I think you need a better measuring stick than how many diplomas you hand out. I think you have to be very careful of unintended consequences. If you focus on graduation rates, then you incentivize schools to target wealthy and middle-class kids and not go after anybody else.

Focusing on graduation rates also drives fudging standards in order to prop up graduation rates. There’s no higher education for students there, either.

Here’s a thought; bear with me, apparently I’m on new ground here. How about focusing on rates of employment in their chosen major field for graduating students in a period (say, six months to five years) following graduation?

Graduating students who do well and become employed will identify a number of useful trends for the schools who graduated them and the Federal government that hectors the schools: the schools are teaching well, the schools are teaching marketable skills, and the schools are producing graduates less likely to default on their student loans because they have actual jobs and an income that enables them to pay their debts.

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