5.12.15

BUSINESS AS USUAL IS INADEQUATE.

I continue to catch up on material racked from years ago.  There's still a lot of work to be done, as in some cases, not much has changed for the better.

Here's a series of posts that I flagged nearly eight years ago about the ways higher education has broken the social contract with normal Americans, and the ways in which the powers that be were insisting on going on with business as usual.  Here's an Inside Higher Ed column from January, 2008, in which higher education's trade association responds to a report by the Spellings Commission (properly the Commission on the Future of Higher Education), an attempt by the Bush administration to understand and perhaps change the ways in which higher education does things.  At best, the trade association concedes, there might be a few things to do differently.
Many faculty members and college leaders have complained that their efforts to do so have been unfairly ignored and that the critics have promoted oversimplified and potentially destructive approaches to measure and report learning outcomes, such as an overemphasis on standardized tests. But many higher education groups have also acknowledged, sometimes grudgingly, that the external pressure has propelled their efforts in useful ways.
Since then, commission chairwoman Margaret Spellings has been named president of the University of North Carolina system.  (That's not sitting well with the usual suspects.)  It's going to take more than standardized tests to fix higher education, as the recent temper tantrums from the cry-bullies is demonstrating.

Also in January of that year, former Secretary of Education and then-Senator Lamar Alexander called out the higher education establishment for not telling their story properly.
Alexander said colleges have themselves to blame, in large part, for what he called the "communications gap" that leads his colleagues to some mistaken assumptions -- and in turn some flawed policy conclusions -- about American higher education.

"Congress simply doesn't understand the importance of autonomy, excellence and choice" in higher education, "and the higher education community hasn't bothered to explain it in plain English to members who need to hear it and understand it," Alexander said.

It is also not well understood, he said, that "a primary reason that tuition has been rising is that state funding has been flat."

College leaders need to do a better job explaining to members of Congress some of the ways they are working to "be more efficient and spend money wisely," andhow they are rewarding innovation and educating students. "You should also talk about the importance of autonomy in higher education. Say, 'Mr. Congressman, we shouldn't have to fill out five boxes of regulations in order to qualify for federal loans.' "

It's not that lawmakers are wrong to impose scrutiny on colleges, the senator said. "When you've got Congress telling colleges how to spend their endowments, and trying to federalize the accreditation system, something's wrong," he said. "What is not wrong is that Congress is asking questions about how they spend tens of billions of dollars.... How would you like to come up here as a member of Congress, appropriate billions and billions [to colleges and universities in financial aid and research grants], and then have the higher education community say, 'Don't ask any questions about it'?"
Particularly when the higher education community has been enabling the cry-bullies, and otherwise sticking its fingers in the eyes of normal Americans.  And longtime critic, if from the inside, and economist Richard Vedder warned the mandarins to stop pretending business as usual was sustainable.
"You've got to pay attention to transparency, or Senator Alexander's admonition will come true -- the government people will get on your backs, and you don't want that," he said. "If you adhere to the spirit of the Spellings Commission's report, you can avoid truly disastrous forms of intervention. I'm on your side -- I'm one of you."
Among the Perpetually Aggrieved, the appointment by a Republican governor and legislature in North Carolina of Margaret Spellings is precisely that kind of "disastrous intervention." To my mind, it's a desirable corrective, and probably self-inflicted.

At the time, the overpriced Ivies were dipping into their endowments in a ploy to appear more inclusive. Richard Vedder suggested that was a start, but not a substantive start.
It's clear that the new financial aid plans offered by Harvard and Yale will put even more pressure on similarly ranked schools -- both private, such as Princeton, and public, such as the University of Michigan or the University of Virginia -- to match them. Some of these schools have healthy endowments and are well-positioned to do so, while others might not be able to keep up in the financial aid arms race. But increasing financial aid alone won't deal with the fundamental problems of a costly and relatively inefficient higher education system. In the end, all Harvard and Yale have done is to make some nice, symbolic moves.
Nearly eight years on, the rot continues, with the recent emergence of the crybullies.

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