Last week a colleague (the ever-politically-aware Kai Swanson) sent me the link to the draft of the Obama Administration’s “College Scorecard,” which they propose be housed within the College Affordability and Transparency Center.
The purpose of the College Scorecard is described below:
“The Administration is planning to add a new tool to the College Affordability and Transparency Center that would assist prospective students and their families in comparing colleges before they choose using key measures of college affordability and value. The purpose of the tool is to make it easier for students and their families to identify and choose high-quality, affordable colleges that provide good value.” (White House)
The five areas the administration seems to care about (since they are the only ones listed) are:
- What will it cost me to attend?
- Will I graduate in four years?
- Will I be able to repay my student loans?
- How much debt will I have when I finish?
- Will I be able to get a job when I finish?
I think these questions are good questions for a prospective student to ask and I think colleges should be sensitized to answering these questions, too.
However, I must admit to wondering if the administration cares about student learning? The questions they’ve chosen as a “scorecard” advance the narrative that “cheaper and faster” is the way to go and what should define “value” in higher education. Right?
I guess what disturbs me even more than the continued emphasis on “cheaper and faster” and the lack of attention to learning outcomes, is the emphasis on jobs and earnings.
It’s not that I object to the need to illustrate successful outcomes; I think that’s a good thing. (In fact, we spend a lot of time thinking about this at Augustana and have developed an “outcome-oriented dashboard” of indicators that consider questions about student learning and learning outcomes).
I also understand from where this comes (most would suggest this is necessary to combat the predatory nature of some [very few] bad apple for-profit institutions).
But, this crazy one-size-fits-all solution in the College Scorecard is not the way to go.
I genuinely worry about governmental involvement in determining whether or not a college or university, or, for that matter, a student, has been successful based exclusively on jobs and potential earnings.
I certainly hope faculty, senior administrators and all others who believe that a college education is more than just job preparation will take notice, stand up and share their voices.
Seriously, is a job and high earning potential the only reason for college? Gee, I hope not. I hope we do more than that. I hope we are more than a factor looking for cheaper, faster and a higher profit margin.
I think my reservations about this are heightened by the recent kerfuffle about gaming the rankings (too many articles to offer hyperlinks, but think Claremont).
I fear that the next thing will be gaming the outcomes to make sure we look dandy on the College Scorecard.
If one were to play this out; in an effort to game the scorecard, it is conceivable that some colleges may begin to eliminate programs that lead to lower paying jobs. It is also conceivable that some of these jobs are exactly those jobs that are important to civic engagement.
There are some serious questions about this how it is being tied to “value.”
Here are some questions we should be asking.
When is the right time to track the job?
Who’s going to track and verify all of this? (The honor system doesn’t seem to work, so does that mean we are beholden to another bureaucracy?)
When does the earnings thing matter? (Right away? Five years out? Twenty years out?)
What credits will those colleges and universities which prepare graduates for service and civic engagement receive to “level the playing field” or tip it depending upon you perspective? (One might think about the Service Academies, which might demonstrate full employment, but not great earnings right out. And, how about the Peace Corps and Teach for America?)
Those of us who understand the real purpose of higher education and recognize that learning is more than just high earning potential have to stand up to this and speak our mind.
What are your thoughts about the College Scorecard and The College Affordability and Transparency Center? Does it capture the right things? Does it truly represent value?
W. Kent Barnds a.k.a. @bowtieadmission