Colleges, like high-end fashion nameplates, trade on reputation and scarcity, rather than on their results, says Kevin Carey, policy director at the independent think tank Education Sector. I suppose, in the case of Prada, that means its shoes could be more comfortable; for colleges, however, the issue is with the dearth of information on whether the schools are effectively teaching the millions of students that fork over huge sums of money each year. Reputation, which is measured by metrics like the US News & World Report rankings, is mainly burnished by attracting exciting researchers to a school's faculty or building new, state-of-the-art facilities. Both are expensive efforts, and those costs are passed onto students and their families.Since the early-'80s, Pell grants have made it possible for low income students to consider college, Carey writes in Democracy, but because of the skyrocketing costs of schools at every level (from your Havards to community colleges), these students are forced to attend resource-poor schools that don't even graduate half of the students that attend them. But since prestige goes farther than well-educated students, it's hard to get school administrators to stop hustling for money and start cracking down on their various academic departments."The solution is to gather much more comparable, publicly available information about teaching and learning. That would allow institutions to pursue a robust, value-based marketing strategy, to make the case that their learning results meet or exceed other, more expensive competitors'."Carey points to surveys and tests, such as the National Survey of Student Engagement and Collegiate Learning Assessment, which already exist and attempt to identify the schools that are fulfilling their missions most successfully. Unfortunately, he notes, a strong (and largely unknown) lobby for the nations' colleges and universities has gone out of its way to make sure that sort of information is held close to schools' vests.He calls for the Obama administration to supplement its proposal of securing $40 billion from the banking industry to fund the Pell Grant Program with new guidelines for information disclosure. A more transparent system, Carey argues, will make for a better higher education that will cause schools to compete for qualified students based on value and price.Obviously, there's a bit of a radical retooling being proposed here, but isn't anything that encourages a downward trend in college costs worth it?Photo via
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