IT'S CALLED A MARKET TEST. Highered Intelligence has a post on something called the National Survey of Student Engagement, administered to freshmen and to seniors, posing questions such as "The Nessie surveys of freshmen and senior undergraduates measure academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences, and supportive campus environment. Questions include: How many written papers or reports of 5 to 19 pages were you asked to produce this year? How often did you work with other students outside of class to prepare an assignment? How often did you discuss ideas with faculty outside of class? Did you study abroad? How do you rate the quality of your relationships with other students?" (that quotation from this Jay Mathews column linked by Highered Intel.)

Sounds like the kind of assessment test I referred to here, and it might provide the kind of information about the effectiveness of university teaching the Illinois legislature is seeking. Why, then, do the universities distance themselves from this survey faster than a Laser on a screaming reach? Mathews suggests the dirty little secret is, there's precious little value added being delivered by universities, particularly the pricey ones. Highered Intelligence is a bit more skeptical. I tend to agree, but suggest that finding a more accurate assessment test is a waste of time. It's much simpler to look at student performance five, or ten, or twenty years out, and to discover which talents have been particularly useful, and whether the university has done anything to hone those talents.

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