To attract prospective students, Michigan’s Kalamazoo College has implemented a bold and rarely used strategy in higher education, the publication of its students test scores to show what its students have learned over four years in attendance, the Wall Street Journal reported. The nation’s colleges and universities have refuted efforts of a national college-rating system that could tie federal grants and loans to student performance during and after college.
Reforming K-12 education by basing school and teacher performance on test scores has become a highly debatable topic and the Obama administration’s attempts implement such a system on higher education has sparked even greater furor. Any national system would likely include metrics like graduation rates and student-loan default rates. If assessments of what students learn are included at all, they would almost certainly be voluntary, an administration official said.
Since the recession, many prospective students and their parents, reports Karen Farkas, are trying to be more skeptical when selecting a college. Deans of a few select schools such as Eric Staab of Kalamazoo College are hoping that by sharing test results, that it will give the schools a competitive advantage by attracting more students and employers whose faith in a college degree may have been rattled.
Richard Freeland, Massachusetts Commissioner of Higher Education and former president of Northeastern University hopes that transparency will create a level playing field for competition between schools—and help schools make a fact-based case for state support.
Parents, meanwhile, will “know beyond a school’s reputation or the record of its football team what the level of learning is going on in the classroom,” he said. “The stakes are huge.”
Also struggling for state support are researchers in the nation’s colleges and universities. A decline in funds for university research from agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation has hampered the ability of scientists to conduct research and led to downsizing.
The Chronicle of Higher Education conducted a survey sent to 67, 454 researchers holding current grants from the NIH or NSF. More than 11,000 responded. Among the key findings: Nearly half have already abandoned an area of investigation they considered central to their lab’s mission. And more than three-quarters have reduced their recruitment of graduate students and research fellows because of economic pressures.
Close to half of all respondents, 42 percent, have advised students to seek careers outside of academia. It was reported that foreign competitors are matching or exceeding American science performance on a variety of measures as well.
Researchers expressed concern both for themselves and for their counterparts, including students who they had hoped would become the nation’s next generation of scientists.
If colleges and universities can garner more attention and greater competitive edge in attracting prospective students by shedding light on what Freeland called “this huge paradox sitting at the center of higher education where we don’t really know what learning is going on,” then schools may also be able to garner more financial support and much needed federal funding for research that has begun to affect higher education institutions.