Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Higher ed reform

Via Ezra Klein, an interesting piece by Kevin Carey in Democracy about the need for reform in American higher education.

The main takeaway: The marketplace in US colleges operates on reputation, not information – there is a paucity of comparative outcomes data on how well, e.g., business departments’ graduates perform in business – and the elite colleges (via a powerful lobbying shop in Washington) do their best to keep useful outcomes data from seeing the light of day.

Carey notes the huge boom since World War II in the number of Americans who attend college. Some of the younger institutions founded in that time frame deserve more credit, and some of the older brand-name institutions are coasting. I am the parent of a high school student, soon-to-be tuition payer, and as a matter of fact the college she expresses most interest in is in the “young and possibly on the rise” category. So color me intrigued.

I've been seeing the end-of-decade spate of retrospectives, mostly gloomy. Also, I'm working through James Fallows's Atlantic cover story which is an anti-jeremiad: why Americans shouldn't be pessimistic about our national future. I still worry that America has slipped into a state of decadence preceding a steep fall. One reason is the harmful influence of lobbying. Carey's story may not be the best example, but it is a data point. The US has lost focus on producing goods and services. Our economy is founded on real estate flips, other forms of financial sleight-of-hand, and lobbying for regulatory relief and/or government-sponsored obfuscation. Add college presidents to the list of classes of leaders who would rather pay lobbyists to sustain the corrupt and ultimately unsustainable status quo, rather than seriously re-vision and reform their way of working.

Also, I want to highlight this passage that compares the arrogance and self-protectiveness of colleges to that of churches:

Colleges are often lumped in with other non-profit entities like charities and hospitals in the public mind. But they actually most resemble the institution from which many of the oldest and most renowned colleges sprang: organized religion. Like the church, colleges have roots that pre-date the founding of the republic. They see themselves as occupying an exalted place in human society, for which they are owed deference and gratitude. They cherish their priests and mysteries, and they are disinclined to subject either to public scrutiny.

Interesting to me largely for the view of religion being expressed. Not saying it’s right or wrong, either the view of contemporary religion or the college-church analogy. It bears thinking about.

No comments: