THE NEW YORK TIMES: How to Hold Colleges Accountable

Career College Central Summary:

  • THE problems with college are well known. Too many students aren’t learning, don’t finish and fall deeply in debt. What will make college better? Federal officials, who are already alarmed by soaring tuitions, must tackle the mediocre education and outcomes at many schools with similar urgency.
  • Through loans, grants and tax breaks, the federal government spent $126 billion in 2013-14 financing college tuition. In return, colleges are essentially on an honor code. The authorities intervene only when results are scandalous. In recent years, only schools with extraordinarily high student-loan default rates — often in excess of 30 percent — have been barred from accepting new Pell Grant scholarships for the poor, as well as federally backed student loans. A mere 21 colleges were threatened with such penalties last year. So the other 6,000 colleges are doing just fine?
  • Of course, many are not. The federal government, given its central role in supporting higher education, should demand more from colleges, in three ways.
  • First is the quality of teaching. At the K-12 level, the No Child Left Behind law required training, evaluation and assessment of teachers. But at the college level, professors are mostly on their own. They typically come through the ranks of Ph.D. programs, receive little training on how to teach, and are — at research universities — granted tenure primarily for scholarship, not effective instruction.
  • A research study commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently found that just 20 percent of faculty members used innovative teaching methods, like team-teaching across subjects, soliciting real-time student feedback in class and using social media to spur discussion outside the lecture hall.
  • No wonder, then, that 45 percent of a sample study of more than 2,300 students demonstrated no significant gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning or writing after two years of college, as the education scholars Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa concluded in a landmark 2011 book, “Academically Adrift.”

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