“Second, students and parents deserve a right-to-know law. Imagine if families could evaluate a college, not based on luxurious dormitories or lavish student activity centers, but on the salaries alumni earn 10 years out of college? Or graduation rates by family income? Every for-profit, nonprofit, two-year and four-year college should release these statistics…

…Knowing this information could be revolutionary. Administrators would compete to see that students of all income levels were finishing college and succeeding in the workplace. More informed student choice would put pressure on colleges to focus on academic outcomes rather than on student amenities and athletics. This data could be broken down by gender, race, income and major. After intense lobbying from colleges, the 2008 higher education bill passed by Congress forbade this information to be disseminated. The law should be rescinded.

The third area — and the one with the biggest impact on the federal budget — is student aid. Right now, no matter how high tuition climbs, there is always a federal loan to make up the difference between price and aid. Just as new mortgage laws require banks to hold on to some of the mortgages they issue before bundling and selling the loans — so that they have an incentive to avoid making bad loans — so too should colleges be held responsible for a portion of student-loan defaults, which stood just shy of 14 percent in 2013. When students default, colleges should have to cover some portion — maybe 5 percent of the yearly principal and interest — to share some of the burden; right now, the taxpayers are on the hook for 100 percent.”, Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler, “How to Hold Colleges Accountable”, New York Times

“This outstanding New York Times OpEd mirrors what I have been saying on this blog about higher education and federal student loans. Let’s put the students and their families first and hold all colleges and universities accountable for successful graduates and the performance of the federally-guaranteed student loans, they depend on to stay in business (almost none of these institutions are viable without federally-guaranteed student loans). Consumer Protection Financial Bureau where are you? I guess still writing all those form-over-substance regulations for mortgages???? (That haven’t done much other than dramatically increase costs for mortgage lenders which are passed on to borrowers and reduce competition, which has led to an unprecedented rise in mortgage lending profit margins, just to package government insured or guaranteed mortgages!!!).”, Mike Perry, former Chairman and CEO, IndyMac Bank

The Opinion Pages

How to Hold Colleges Accountable

By JON COWAN and JIM KESSLER

WASHINGTON — 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.”

Currently, the federal government gives just 24 cents in postsecondary education improvement grants for every $100 in grants for research; that number should be at least doubled. By 2020, every college that gets federal aid should be required to have a plan to train professors, improve the quality of instruction and measure student learning. This need not be a top-down mandate; the universities should be allowed to compete for federal funds to design the best assessments of whether and how students learn.

Second, students and parents deserve a right-to-know law. Imagine if families could evaluate a college, not based on luxurious dormitories or lavish student activity centers, but on the salaries alumni earn 10 years out of college? Or graduation rates by family income? Every for-profit, nonprofit, two-year and four-year college should release these statistics.

Knowing this information could be revolutionary. Administrators would compete to see that students of all income levels were finishing college and succeeding in the workplace. More informed student choice would put pressure on colleges to focus on academic outcomes rather than on student amenities and athletics. This data could be broken down by gender, race, income and major.

After intense lobbying from colleges, the 2008 higher education bill passed by Congress forbade this information to be disseminated. The law should be rescinded. Recently, President Obama proposed a college accountability regime that would include rankings (including comparative data on student loan defaults) and more stringent rules for poor-performing colleges, but it has already been watered down, in part because of lobbying by for-profit colleges and their allies.

The third area — and the one with the biggest impact on the federal budget — is student aid. Right now, no matter how high tuition climbs, there is always a federal loan to make up the difference between price and aid.

Just as new mortgage laws require banks to hold on to some of the mortgages they issue before bundling and selling the loans — so that they have an incentive to avoid making bad loans — so too should colleges be held responsible for a portion of student-loan defaults, which stood just shy of 14 percent in 2013.

When students default, colleges should have to cover some portion — maybe 5 percent of the yearly principal and interest — to share some of the burden; right now, the taxpayers are on the hook for 100 percent. Colleges that genuinely focus on educating low-income students should not be punished for doing so, but high-turnover schools that consistently enroll students while failing to graduate them should be pushed out of business.

Taken together, these reforms would constitute a new college compact between the government, educators, students and parents and, critically, they would align the goals of the schools and the students they teach.

The good news is that most colleges do want to provide the best education to students; they should embrace these proposals. In this economy, college is a necessity, but too often priced as a luxury, and too often allowed to continue in mediocrity. The United States can’t afford the status quo in higher education.

Jon Cowan is president, and Jim Kessler is senior vice president for policy, at Third Way, a centrist institute.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 19, 2015, on page A25 of the New York edition with the headline: How to Hold Colleges Accountable.

 

Posted on February 19, 2015, in Postings. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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