On PBC we’ve often questioned the conventional wisdom that higher education is always the right choice for young adults. George, in particular, has done invaluable work discussing the positive economic outcomes of those who have, for example, chosen trade skills over college degrees. At the heart of our argument lies a question: What, exactly, are you getting for your money?
A degree, of course. And that degree often opens doors simply because employers reflexively place it as a mandatory minimum prerequisite. Yet this mindset of college as simply resume box-checking (rightfully) makes many educators squirm. Shouldn’t we also be gaining–at the very least–a level of additional knowledge that bears at least some relationship with the amount of time and money expended?
So I read with interest Inside Higher Ed’s account of some rather honest soul-searching by at the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s annual meeting:
Ikenberry [Stanley O. Ikenberry, former president of the American Council on Education] laid out several ways in which he believed accreditation needed to change to both maintain its utility as a voluntary peer review system and to reassure policy makers that higher education is worthy of taxpayers’ investments in it. Foremost among them was the role of accreditors in continuing to prod colleges to measure the learning outcomes of students, which is also the goal of two new organizations that Ikenberry and other college leaders announced at last week’s meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
and . . .
Dickeson’s [Robert C. Dickeson, president emeritus of the University of Northern Colorado] presentation Tuesday acknowledged that there remained legitimate criticisms of accreditation’s rigor and agility, noting that many colleges and accrediting agencies still lacked good information about student learning outcomes “40 years after the assessment movement began in higher education.”
Aside from their house, the single largest investment many families will make is in higher education for their children (and if they have a large family, higher education can be far more costly than a house). Yet–even with a multiplicity of accrediting organizations and years of effort–we have very little information about what, if anything, students are learning.
George, keep writing. Perhaps parents will begin to read and ask their own hard questions, and then we may see some real reform–and a lot less wasted money.