Feds to the Rescue?

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Professors still believe that the woes that afflict higher education can be solved through federal intervention.  “Data should be collected on employment rates, salary information, and in acknowledgement that income is not a complete measure of a school’s return, alumni satisfaction rates,” Harvard’s Bridgett Terry Long writes in a December 2010 report published by the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Most might agree on all of the above but Long wants the feds to do it. “The role of the federal government would be threefold,” Long writes in the CAP report, which is entitled “Grading Higher Education: Giving Consumers the Information They Need.” “First, it must spearhead data collection and assembly.”

“Second, it must construct the tools necessary to translate this information with the goal of informing consumers and stressing the information believed to have the greatest public benefits.”

“Finally, the government should provide the raw data to others for their own use, possibly including tools for specific types of students or fields of study.”

She acknowledges the pivotal role that the federal government already plays in collecting such data but wants to pump up the volume. “Generally speaking, government informational resources should be bolstered and branded as the central clearinghouse for higher education information to prevent the exploitation of families by companies that charge for what should be free information,”  she writes.

As well, she suggests a possible new source of federal revenue:  “Finally, the government should also implement procedures to audit the information to ensure the quality of the data, similar to the way U. S. News & World Report handles its ranking system. This may involve penalties for infractions.”

Doing so would be “less costly than direct government intervention,” she predicted at a December 3, 2010 CAP seminar. Her implicit endorsement of more federal spending, or “investment,” in higher education formed a leitmotif at the CAP conference among “thought leaders,” as the speakers styled each other.

These thought leaders included half a dozen university professors, including Long.  “We’ve already seen much success in K-12 and health care,” she said. On the last of these, in the closing panel at the CAP event, U. S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis noted that “Every month in the employment reports we see a growth in health care and it is not among doctors, much as we need them.”

Can it be that we are spending more time on data collection than disease treatment due to a surplus of bureaucrats and a shortage of medical practitioners?

As for the K-12 success Long made reference to, the National Academies Press might beg to differ. It just released a book entitled High School Dropout Graduation and Completion Rates: Better Data, Better Measures, Better Decisions. “While determining these rates may seem like a straightforward task, their calculation is in fact quite complicated,” the academies note.

“One thing that I know that higher education is trying hard to do is to provide remedial education,” Long said at the CAP event. Businesses haven’t quite seen the result of this effort yet.

“Employers and companies across the country tell us, ‘We can’t find enough workers who can do tenth-grade math and English,’” Penny Pritzker, chairman of the board of TransUnion, said in a later panel at the CAP event.

“Across all Common Core domains, strands, and clusters, only one-third

to one-half of 11th grade students are reaching a college and career readiness level of achievement,” the ACT found.

It doesn’t get much better after graduation, from either high school or college. “In a just-completed nationwide survey, commissioned by State Policy Network for its new Federalism in Action effort, only 17 percent of respondents said they were ‘very familiar’ with the U. S. Constitution, and just 47 percent had ever read their state constitution,” Kellyanne Conway reported in the December 2010 SPNews, the network’s newsletter.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org