Beware of Bureaucrats Bearing Gifts

Why have Paredes and his allies, the university administrators, proposed this form of accountability? Because they know that they can raise the graduation rates without disturbing the status quo in the slightest. They don’t need to make professors work harder. All they have to do is encourage them to drop academic standards still further. If every student earns an A in every course, it’s pretty easy to get to a 100% graduation rate. Especially if the administrators bribe the students to stay with better food, bigger dorm rooms, fancier swimming pools and rec facilities, and more exciting athletics programs. Our colleges are turning into little Club Meds for twenty-somethings, with education as an optional extra, all supplied by the taxpayers, who naively believe that the universities care about teaching.

We must hold state universities accountable, but not for something as intrinsically meaningless as graduation rates. Instead, let’s measure what students learn by means of third-party assessments, like the GRE Subject exams. And let’s study carefully what value, if any, is added by higher education through longitudinal studies of state college graduates, controlling for things like TAKS and SAT scores. Does college education improve the graduates’ lifetime earnings? Their happiness? Their civic involvement? If so, which colleges and which subjects?