"Distinctively Dickinson" at Risk
There's a power struggle going on in the higher education world, and how, what, and why college students learn is at stake.
Recently, the Department of Education under Margaret Spellings has been clamoring for increased academic standards (think No Child Left Behind) for colleges and universities with “accountability” as its buzzword. According to the Spellings Commission, the crisis hinges on higher costs and unmeasured student achievement. In an effort to exert influence on academia at large, the government has narrowed its sights on the accreditation agencies which act as the chief assurance for academic quality among colleges and universities and are prone to federal control.
The government typically has had a large share in the higher education system, investing large sums research and financial aid since the GI Bill. But the difference up until now is that it left accrediting agencies and institutions of higher learning to determine academic quality. The government's trust in the nation's colleges and universities to self-regulate was novel but acclaimed approach in a world of top-down determined education systems. This relationship was further solidified under the Higher Education Act of 1965.
However, ever since the Regan administration's report A Nation at Risk in 1983, which said Americans weren't learning enough the right way, the Department of Education has been in a tizzy trying to figure out what's wrong with education and how to fix it. All of this hubbub has culminated with Margeret Spellings' Commission on the Future of Higher Education. Established in 2005, the commission has deemed that the accrediting agencies were deficient in determining higher education standards.
Their solution? Form an accrediting agency for accrediting agencies, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI). NACIQI is a mix of business leaders, state officials, and college presidents enlisted to advise Spellings on which accrediting agencies should be federally recognized, and thus receive a portion of the annually dispersed $100 billion of aid. What NACIQI decides is directly responsible for where higher education is headed.
The advisory group approves accrediting agency that have developed “outcome indicators” of student achievement and have a set of minimum standards. For anyone who has taken a standardized test in high school, we all know how this has turned out: hours spent with a simple class, learning simple materials, only to take a joke of a test.
Of course colleges and universities should be forthright as to where our 40k a year goes. They should seek to improve student's cross-curriculum learning and development of their skills. But the Spellings Commission goes wrong when it believes only government intervention can save our higher education system. Responsibility for quality of education lies in the collaborative effort of institutions that provide the education. After all, the fate of a “Distinctively Dickinson” community depends on it.