How’s that possible? Accrediting [a purely American lunacy] insures competence, or at least that’s the lie that’s always told. ‘College X is ‘accredited’ so you can be certain that your child will receive a top notch education’. Except they aren’t. Because- put your seatbelt on- education is more about the motivation of the student than it is the administration of an institution.
The open secret in American higher education is that most institutions are unable to measure the quality of their instruction.
Students are being charged loads of money. There’s just no way to tell how good it is. At least if you go out to a restaurant if your food is bad you can send it back. In colleges, they get your money up front. You don’t get it back even if you don’t graduate.
In his State of the Union address last Tuesday, President Obama proposed several measures to lower college tuition. University leaders responded cautiously, warning that cost-cutting reforms might also cut into instructional quality. But here’s the big open secret in American higher education: Most institutions have no meaningful way to measure the quality of their instruction. And the president didn’t ask us to develop one, either.
Because higher ed is big business. Except it’s a big business that’s producing too much failure, too little competence, too few learned people. It’s privileged position in society has rendered it, in many respects, suspect, corrupt [yes, I’m thinking of you Claremont McKenna], and incompetent.
“If you can’t stop tuition from going up, your funding from taxpayers will go down,” Obama warned. “We should push colleges to do better; we should hold them accountable if they don’t.” Fair enough. But look again at Obama’s criteria for “better”: holding down costs, graduating students and helping them get jobs. There’s no mention of whether the students are actually learning anything. At most institutions, including my own, we have no idea if they are. Sure, professors assign grades in their courses, and students are asked to evaluate the classes they take and the professors who teach them. But neither measure gives us any real answer to the $200,000 question: What knowledge or skills are students acquiring in exchange for the skyrocketing tuition they pay?
If you talk to most college grads, they don’t know much more after they finish than they did when they started. And what they did ‘learn’ they’ll forget in 2 years.
And we now have some alarming national data to suggest the answer: not nearly enough. My New York University colleague Richard Arum and the University of Virginia’s Josipa Roksa recently tracked several thousand undergraduates as they moved through two dozen U.S. universities. They found that almost half of them didn’t significantly improve their reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college. And after four years, subsequent research showed, more than one-third of students still showed no significant gains in these areas.
There’s something wrong in higher ed. Something that too many academics are ignoring because, frankly, they’re only concerned about their own paychecks and not about the students they’re supposed to be educating.
Accreditation agencies are a joke. They accomplish nothing and they only provide administrations boasting rights (purchased at a high price- which price is then passed along to students who are then not furnished what they purchased).