Phi Beta Cons

Consensus and Resistance to the Education Department’s Accountability Drive

At a recent department forum on higher education, according to Inside Higher Education, an aide to Secretary Margaret Spellings was “almost giddy that many of the participants had acknowledged the need for colleges to use and report common measures of what, and how successfully, their students learn.”  One participant noted “how far higher education seems to have come in seeing the value of publicly reported data” that can be compared among “peer institutions.”
But oops! It turns out that almost no “outliers” (representatives of private nonprofit colleges, the sector of higher education most wary of government-mandated requirements that colleges use similar measures) were invited. 
Judith S. Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which coordinates accreditation nationally, gave a less rosy account of an emerging consensus on an accountability blueprint. “They may claim that they have agreement about moving to common templates,” she said. “But we fought over that tooth and nail in our group.” 
Doug Lederman of IHE, who reported on the gathering, captures perfectly the actual tug-of-war between the establishment and federal reformers. He writes it was hard to sense “anywhere near a consensus on even which direction the next baby steps should go in.” At the same time, he adds that Spellings seems disinclined to “wait forever to see progress” toward accountability.

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