In an article for Reuters, Reihan Salam diagnoses the problems facing higher-ed and proposes some interesting solutions. Community colleges routinely fail to help students graduate quickly, while public and private institutions encourage students to take on debt to pay higher tuition fees without adequately preparing them for the professional job market. And while the Obama administration is taking steps to identify and penalize vocational schools who leave their students indebted and without job prospects, it’s focused exclusively on one small piece of the problem. According to Salam, policymakers need to address two major issues first and foremost: increasing transparency and improving the accessibility of quality schools:
There are two really deep problems that plague U.S. higher education. The first is the absence of useful and reliable data that students and parents can use to evaluate programs of all kinds. […] Making this data easily accessible would force the weakest performing schools to either change their ways or face steep enrollment declines. But if the students who turn away from the bottom of the barrel have nowhere else to go, as the best schools have only so many seats, we’ll still find ourselves in a bind.This leads us to the second problem. While transparency would help expose the worst schools, it won’t necessarily improve the average quality of America’s higher education institutions. It’s true that in a world of greater transparency, schools would be more likely to offer a high-quality education at an affordable cost, but that’s not enough.Andrew Kelly of the conservative American Enterprise Institute has emphasized that we need a supply-side strategy designed to increase the availability of affordable, high-quality college opportunities. This could mean making it easier for new schools to gain accreditation, or incentivizing existing high-quality schools to become more inclusive rather than more selective. Over time, increasing the supply of affordable, high-quality college opportunities will raise the average quality of higher education by driving the worst schools out of business and forcing the best schools to continually raise the bar.
This is spot on. Helping students make better decisions while choosing a college and increasing the accessibility of high-performing schools could significantly increase the value students get out of their college experience. Read the whole thing for a smart take on how we can start fixing higher-ed.