Higher Ed Shake Up
Toward a College Testing System

The New America Foundation is out with a new white paper, written by Fredrik DeBoer of Purdue University, on the prospects for a standardized or semi-standardized system of testing for college students. From the introduction:

Unlike K-12 schools, which have long been subject to legal and infrastructural pressures that result in standardization and homogeneity, universities have traditionally been individual, self-directed institutions. Private universities, in particular, have often functioned as their own worlds, operating under idiosyncratic rules and subject to few external authorities. This lack of standardization among universities both makes it more difficult to assess college learning and harder to coordinate and standardize such assessments.

The paper, while attentive to concerns about unreliability and unintended consequences, is cautiously optimistic about the impact such an assessment system would have on higher education quality. And it suggests that the results could help the federal government control tuition increases by steering subsidies away from low-performing schools.

There’s one other potential benefit of a carefully-constructed college assessment system that DeBoer doesn’t mention: It might help level the playing field by allowing students from less prestigious schools prove that they’re as capable as their Ivy League counterparts. As we’ve argued before, elite colleges and high-powered employers are in a symbiotic relationship of convenience that is deeply unfair to students who either didn’t want to go to a prestigious university or who couldn’t impress an admissions committee when they were 17 years old.

One important way that social inequality is maintained in America is that students at top schools have a leg up in many professional fields no matter how much they learned or didn’t learn. A standardized college testing system just might help address this problem.

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