Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

The Power of Inertia


Five years ago I remarked that the highly touted Voluntary System of Accountability (by which major universities were going to reveal “student outcomes”) had not caught fire.

Some measures exist, such as the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Productivity, but many schools are reluctant to reveal their scores. At least that seems to be a major reason why “College Portrait,” the online version of large universities’ Voluntary Accountability System, is not yet available.

Progress is still slow, as Inside Higher Ed recounts today. Indeed, the resistance by large universities to posting student outcome data is almost breathtaking in its effectiveness. Doug Lederman reports that “scores” of schools have opted out “primarily because they did not like the system’s dependence on standardized measures that allow for comparability across colleges.”

Not much has changed since the then-president of the University of California system, Robert C. Dynes, explained why the university decided not to join in 2007 (as quoted in the IHE story): “The university has concluded that using standardized tests on an institutional level as measures of student learning fails to recognize the diversity, breadth, and depth of discipline-specific knowledge and learning that takes place in colleges and universities today.” Q.E.D. 

As recently as a few months ago, UNC–Chapel Hill also declined to post its Collegiate Learning Assessment results, even after having been instructed to by the UNC system. Why? Because “campus leaders/faculty believed the test results weren’t representative,” the university said. This, even though the study used statistically sound and publisher-recommended sample sizes, as Jenna Robinson pointed out earlier this year. Under pressure (possibly from our reporting) the university recently posted its finding with this disclaimer: “We posted the results to our College Portrait, but didn’t find them useful in contributing to campus discussions about student learning outcomes.”

By the way, I sympathize with the view that a single test can’t capture the full panoply of impacts of four years of college. But to resist revealing assessments that could inform students about the value of their potential investment is something that only a cartel of socialistic enterprises can get away with.


Subscribe to National Review