Phi Beta Cons

Words as Weapons

It’s a sleepy day in early August. Nothing should be happening in the world of higher education. Even college presidents are supposed to be taking their vacations. But here I am, looking at the usual sources (Chronicle of Higher Education, InsideHigherEd), and just today I find news about three newly released reports:

  • Sallie Mae and Gallup jointly report on the sources of funds for college (parents pay 37 percent of the total).

  • The Education Trust issued two reports on how to close the achievement gap between minorities and others.

  • And then there was last week’s report by the American Bar Association condemning the U. S. News rankings.

These aren’t just statements; they are long, deliberately crafted papers. And they have been coming out fast and furiously for weeks now. There’s the risibly confused Georgetown University “Help Wanted” report  (which George Leef blasted last week), and the thought-provoking Espenshade/Radford study (beautifully interpreted by Russell Nieli). Oh, and just about everybody has been fascinated with the Leisure College, USA study showing that college students don’t spend much time hitting the books.

Report after report. Words following upon words. In the dog days of August. I have to conclude two things: A lot of people are interested in higher education. That’s the good news. Second, higher education is a battlefield, and its tactical weapons are words — words gathered together in multiple pages, round after round of reports.

Someone is always out to win a battle and words are the weapons. Whatever happened to actions?

Jane S. Shaw — Jane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...

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