Magazine article University Business

A Grade Z Idea: Federal Government in the Classroom: Why Big Government Should Keep Away from College Ratings and Accreditation

Magazine article University Business

A Grade Z Idea: Federal Government in the Classroom: Why Big Government Should Keep Away from College Ratings and Accreditation

Article excerpt

If a college freshman stepped onto a campus where it was obvious that administration had spent months eviscerating each other over petty slights instead of balancing the budget--or refusing to name a dean because a faction of the faculty resent his work on committees--the student would undoubtedly run screaming into the night looking for the fastest way out of there.

So, remind me, exactly why do we want the federal government setting benchmarks for higher education? This is, after all, the same group that keeps making pennies at a loss. As President Obama recently outlined in a proposal called "The President's Plan for a Strong Middle Class and a Strong America," the latest idea to improve our educational system is to hold "colleges accountable for cost, value, and quality" and use these criteria, plus affordability and student outcomes, as prerequisites for receiving federal student financial aid.

Explained simply, the president is proposing to bring big government into the college ratings game. Right now, colleges and universities are rated (or accredited, as we say in higher education) by regional or national education agencies. The proposal would add some more consumer-related ratings such as graduation rates, job placements, and salaries to these accreditation criteria, and the government would possibly take over responsibility for the entire system.

I'm one of President Obama's fans (it's always nice to have a former college professor in the Oval Office), but in this case he must have cut class for skeet shooting on the day they studied logic in law school.

Let's look at this the way Socrates might have, although if he had to deal with federal oversight of his dialogues he might have drank the hemlock out of frustration.

* Budgets: Campus officials must balance the budget every year, cutting services and programs in lean years and expanding services and programs in flush times. The federal government today can't pass a budget at gunpoint and the juvenile sniping and backstabbing on both sides make the chronically late student begging for an extension look like a Disraelian statesman by comparison.

* Diversity: The U.S. higher education system is the envy of the world. …

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