Hard-hitting reporting of higher education has been so abysmal for so long that when newspapers cut back on their coverage of it, readers seldom notice.
Too many reporters were inclined to merely parrot the press releases of the colleges and universities they cover. Now that readers can obtain this information for themselves on the internet, that approach is particularly superfluous.
More than honorable mention on this score must be given to Scott Jaschik, co-founder and editor of Inside Higher Ed.com. As well, recently I had a chance to see the formidable Amanda Ripley in action.
A contributor to Time and The Atlantic, she was very much in evidence at The Atlantic forum on The New Work Era on July 19, 2011. For one thing, she interviewed U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
In the interview, she asked Duncan a question reporters should be peppering him with but aren’t. The Department of Education has tried to slap a “gainful employment” rule on for-profit colleges exclusively. Under the rule, these institutions have to demonstrate that their graduates are “gainfully employed” in order to continue receiving federal funds, directly or indirectly through Pell grants.
Ripley asked Duncan why the rule was not being applied across the board to every program and discipline in for-profits and non-profits alike. Duncan’s rather disingenuous response was that the Department was being tough on non-profits because the agency is demanding that they release their graduation rates.
Laudable though that may be as a means to bring about transparency in higher education, it falls well short of threatening them with income loss, as the department is doing with the relatively small for-profit sector of the higher education community.
Similarly, Ripley grilled New York University president John Sexton in another panel discussion. Sexton likened the higher education system in America to a “symphony” and claimed that the problem with it was students who aren’t working “at their capacity.”
Ripley then adroitly asked him what percentage of NYU grads are working “at their capacity.” Sexton responded that he didn’t think it was fair to ask him that question.
When Ripley pressed Sexton on the reasons for the exploding cost of education, he claimed that the high cost of education is indicative of its quality. Those paying the bill might beg to differ, particularly at NYU.
It should be noted that Ripley is hardly a right-wing ideologue. She is a good reporter, of the like seldom seen in the major media, particularly on the ever-dwindling education beats.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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