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Academic standards for higher ed.

August 21, 2006

[Dean Dad took up the idea of mandating academic standards for higher education, much like No Child Left Behind, to which he listed some well-presented critiques.  Here is my elaboration and response to the main idea.]

I would agree with you, DD, that a NCLB model for higher ed. would be ridiculous if not outright impossible to administer.  

The history of US education is filled with such movements and as many versions of effective pedagogy as there are administrators—not to mention the variations inflicted from one field of study on another.  

The current state of higher ed is not broken.  It could certainly be tweaked, but it is a model of what I would call fuzzy market forces.  That is, a system in which self-regulating “rules” are defined by the system and evolve as the system changes.  For instance, I am Ivy U.  What have I got to prove to anyone?  To potential students, of which there is no small supply for me, I have to maintain a good brand name, strong intellectual achievement, etc.  All of which I do because I have been doing that for a long time—new Ivys are not an overnight occurrence, The Johns Hopkins at the turn of the last century not withstanding.

OR, I am a State U.  What have I to prove?  To incoming students, a lot of which are from the local environs and would go to me anyway, I need to justify my costs, somewhat.  After all, how many state colleges have gone out of business lately?  Any?  I can’t name one.  So, in this sense as long as everyone raises tuition, I don’t even have to justify that.  Just going with the crowd.  To employers, I have to produce a seemingly intelligent worker.  That seems to be happening.

Sure there are stories about the decline of the American college graduate, and I am sure that in some measures today’s grads are less adept in one area than their parents or grandparents.  But there are other areas, which are probably far more applicable to modern business than others.  –These kids may not write for the New Yorker, but they sure can manipulate online communication –

Are students better citizens that in the past?  Again, depends on the measurements.  And to those snotty, self-righteous Baby Boomers, who seem to loudly decry the moral decay of Gen X-Y: the current state is yours.  Anything going wrong right now is on you, not us (national debt, global warming, oil wars, etc.).

Back to topic, the current system is not broken, so attempts at reform will flash and disappear.  There are just too many variables (private, religious, small, large, land-grant, heavily-endowed, etc.) in the college make-up to draft oversight regulations.  In this sense, there are more variables than in health care, and look how well that has been regulated.

So, people will bitch about the cost of going to college—and rightly so—but measuring learning will be left to the business HR people.  They have been doing it for a long time, and are pretty good at it.  

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