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A counter-proposal for higher education
Last fall, President Barack Obama proposed an ambitious set of reforms to make colleges more affordable and accountable for outcomes.
The president's plan, which included a system to rank schools according to measures of value and a proposal to distribute federal student aid based on the rankings, found a mixed response in higher education circles.
At the time of the president's proposal, university officials and education experts around the country voiced fears about possible unintended consequences. Some said ranking schools based on graduation rates, for example, might encourage schools to lower academic standards. Kansas University Provost Jeffrey Vitter echoed that concern in a September interview.
Other outcomes, such as the incomes of college graduates, critics have said, could punish programs and schools that provide education of social value but which doesn't always lead to high-paying jobs. (A December story in the Journal-World explored this topic.)
In a letter last week sent from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities to the U.S. Secretary of Education, the APLU said it supported the president's overall goals of making college as affordable and effective as possible but stated the president's plan could "create perverse incentives."
So the APLU, which KU belongs to, and whose executive committee KU Chancellor Gray-Little sits on, offered its own counter-proposal to the president's.
The APLU's plan calls for providing students and families with more data on college, but nixes the ranking system. Rather than tying the information to the federal aid system, it calls for more stringent Title IX eligibility (a requirement for schools receiving federal funds) that would include "a limited set of meaningful outcomes," adjusted by a student readiness index.
Those outcomes would include student progress and completion rates, as the president suggested, but offered alternative measures. The APLU also listed student loan default rates, net tuition (rather than sticker price) and graduate employment and graduate program enrollment rates (rather than income) as measurable college outcomes.
In much of this, the APLU offered ideas similar to what the White House proposed but with tweaks that could help account for differences among institutions and students. Which of course makes it a similarly ambitious proposition.
One thing both plans call for, and many around the country are calling for, is more transparency in higher education when it comes to comparing costs and programs. Transparency turns out to be not so simple a thing when you are talking about thousands of massive, complex, multi-million dollar institutions.
But maybe you have your own grand plan for reforming the country's higher education system. We're all ears at Heard on the Hill. Send them this way, along with your KU news tips, to firstname.lastname@example.org