Phi Beta Cons

Bob Weissberg Swishes a Three Pointer

I’m referring to his sterling essay today on Minding the Campus, in which he focuses on college basketball. Particularly good is his slam dunk over Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who recently opined that schools with low graduation rates shouldn’t be allowed to participate. Here’s what Weissberg says:

Lastly, the tip-off that Secretary Duncan is just playing a dishonest game is his exclusive focus on “graduation,” that is, a piece of paper, not actually acquiring knowledge. Yes, Duncan may have graduated from Harvard but this is no excuse for ignorance. It is an open secret in today’s “make the numbers” university that getting the diploma is not especially difficult if administrators cooperate. The tactics are all perfectly legal: ample transfer credit from undemanding community colleges, cream puff “athletes only” courses, courses with all “A’s” and “B’s,” soft majors like sports administration and independent study courses entailing minimal work. On the edge of legality are hiring tutors to “help” write papers or providing clues about an upcoming exam. If all else fails, just doctor the transcript or give “A” credit for no-show courses. Perhaps Secretary Duncan’s ire should have been directed to college administrators clueless about the standard bag of tricks.  

I would only add that Weissberg’s observations about the “bag of tricks” to increase graduation rates applies equally to the rest of the student body. If administrators are rewarded based on improving graduation rates (in pursuit of Obama’s college completion agenda or similar obsessions in the states), they will devise ways of doing so, but that won’t mean students gaining in skills and knowledge.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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