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Fixing the Schools
Can Transparency and High Quality Schools Fix Higher Education?

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.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Salam (and TAI) completely miss the key point, which is that higher educatation is not for everybody. Instead of tinkering with a system based on the nonsensical proposition that everybody should have a college education, we need to create a new one which changes the focus of Community Colleges from college prep to trade prep and stops admitting to Universities students who require remedial education. Aan even worthier goal would be to require that High Schools stopt graduating uneducated students, but that’s probably too much to hope for.

  • Anthony

    “Can transparency and high quality schools fix higher education” begs the question. That is, facts have been presumed when they may just be otherwise. As Andrew Allison so aptly infers, does college model fundamentally apply to civic need (especially as it relates to our general populace).

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “According to Salam, policymakers need to address two major issues first and foremost: increasing transparency and improving the accessibility of quality schools”

    More Government, that’s your solution? I say what is needed is less Government interference. End all education grants, loans, taxpayer support, and regulations, and see the free market produce what it always produces, continuously improving Quality, Service, and Price. Only by facing competition for their very existence, will these bloated institutions make the changes necessary to improve higher education.

  • Duncan Frissell

    “the absence of useful and reliable data that students and parents can use to evaluate programs of all kinds.”

    There’s plenty of “data”, it’s just that students and parents can’t interpret it. Every school has a website. If you know how to read, you can see by the language used and the images selected that most colleges are a waste of money. If the website is filled with edu-speak, don’t bother. A careful reading, will allow anyone to determine its philosophy. If a parent has an educational philosophy, he can determine a match. If he doesn’t have an educational philosophy, he should develop one before spending so much money.

    For example, I know in advance that most colleges are left-wing propaganda mills totally uninterested in teaching anything useful. So my selection process is eased. If you happen to be a left-winger, it will be harder for you because you have more colleges to investigate but spend a little time judging rigor and stick with institutions that promise it.

    Then there are thew thousands of secondary sources on the Net that will tell you exactly what the institution is like. No excuses.

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