A new national higher education report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says universities and technical colleges nationwide fail to provide the basic information students need to make entry level decisions, they do not adequately track academic success, too often they are not accountable for failure and very few have any idea what happens to students after they leave the classroom.
The Georgia section is a mixed bag with some positive thoughts about higher education online learning here but significant criticism about university and technical college system consumer information transparency and accountability. The report is the first emphasis on higher education since the U.S. Chamber began this series with K-12 public education reports in 2007 and 2009.
“Right now we have no measure of the quality of a college education,” says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Hess was among several education policy scholars who researched and wrote “Leaders and Laggards” which was released Tuesday by the Institute for a Competitive Workforce at the U.S. Chamber.
“Most of these conversations floating across the landscape today deal with degree completion because we know how to measure degree completion,” Hess said during a panel discussion broadcast on the internet. “We have remarkably little sense of how similar degree completion is from Institution A to Institution B. That’s a conversation we’ve barely started to have.”
Hess and two co-author panelists said four-year university and two-year technical college systems should be able to answer basic questions such as, what happens to students after they leave the classroom; do they get and keep jobs; are they employable in those same fields five years later; did the academic programs they studied have an application in the real world?
“Currently we have this strange phenomenon where there’s a lot of information available (about) the performance of K-12 public schools (but with) almost 6,000 higher education schools there’s almost no information,” said co-author Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.
“We need better measurement in higher education of almost everything,” said American Enterprise Institute research fellow and co-author Andrew Kelly. “We need to be able to aggregate data across the various functions of an institution in ways that we can’t currently do. That’s the key, measurement coupled with transparency, making data available in public.”
The Institute for a Competitive Workforce used publicly available data and information received from four-and-two-year state systems to evaluate performance in six sectors: student access and success; efficiency and cost effectiveness; meeting labor market demand; transparency and accountability; policy environment and innovation. The national report card is a collection of mostly low scores with lots of “D” and “F” grades, not a voice of confidence from the Chamber.
Georgia results are mixed. The state was graded at the top for efficiency and cost effectiveness in the technical college system and also for overall online learning innovation. None of the nine other categories received higher than a “B” grade and Georgia was graded near the bottom for consumer information transparency and accountability in both the two-year technical college (F grade) and four-year university systems (D grade).
The Chamber said, “Georgia receives below average scores for its consumer information and public accountability resources. The state does not track student labor market outcomes.” The state was criticized for a policy that will not allow students to transfer general credits from a two-year school to a four-year school if they change majors. The Chamber also noted Georgia does not have outcomes-based funding. The University System of Georgia did not have a spokesman available on Tuesday. Click here to read more complete data on Georgia.
Discussion about transparency and accountability dominated the panel conversation to almost the exclusion of other topics. Kelly from the American Enterprise Institute noted, “If we had the data to measure how many of your Pell Grant recipients graduate within six years that’s what we would have used here, but we don’t. The fact that we don’t know that is a travesty.”
Whitehurst from the Brookings Institution reated the analogy of a student trying to decide which nursing program to select. “We’d like to know whether a particular program actually gets its students to the finish line, whether students who get to the finish line are employed and how much money they make. These seem to be reasonable questions to ask.
“Short of buying a home an investment in higher education is the biggest investment that any family will make,” Whitehurst said. “If states would empower prospective students and their families to shop (for higher education) with at least as much information as they have when they are choosing a restaurant or a used car that would be a wonderful change.”
Hess from the American Enterprise Institute challenged state legislators to “really call the heads of these public systems to account, grilling them, what are you doing to get information out there, what are our investments in transparency, what are we reporting, and how can you demonstrate to us that we are spending dollars wisely. The tiny number of times that anybody in institutions really appears to be challenged or pushed is, I think, problematic.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
Frederick Hess looks at American public education and he sees General Motors. Not the nifty, new Chevrolet Camaro convertible version rescued by the federal government but the previous model when the world’s once premier automaker became so bloated that it virtually killed itself.
Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. His several books include newly released “The Same Thing Over and Over,” a passionate conversation about why American education will not improve by doing the same thing over and over again.
Hess delivered the keynote address at this year’s second annual education conference hosted by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. About 150 educators and policy analysts met this past Friday in Macon. They were treated to Hess’s rapid fire delivery and his strong suggestion American public education is outdated for its needs.
“General Motors had been hearing from consultants for three decades (about) what the problems were,” Hess said. “Before people bought cars online, it was useful to have tons of dealers (but) the world changed. The way people bought cars changed. The way people used technology changed. GM did not change. It still had the enormous dealer network, enormous compensation agreements, enormous health care costs and enormous pension obligations.
“GM’s successes had gotten baked into its DNA. This is the problem with school reform,” Hess said. “We live our whole lives in the world of K-12 and we think the whole world works that way. I’ve got to tell you, if we try to fix K-12 the way we’ve always tried to fix K-12 we will be having this same boring conversation decades from now.”
Hess made the point that 50 years is the average lifespan for a Fortune 500 company but nearly every school district in the United States already existed 50 years ago, all 14,000 of them. Most education still uses the model that students in a classroom will be taught the same content at the same pace for the same number of days before moving as a group to the next classroom.
This worked when most Americans received little beyond the education required for a lifetime of manual labor. This worked when most Americans grew up on farms. This worked when literacy was defined by the ability to write your own name. This worked when classrooms were training assembly line students for jobs that did not require deductive reasoning and decision making.
“What we want kids to do and what we want schools to do is profoundly different than 50 years ago,” Hess said. “The way we can organize and deliver schooling is profoundly different today from what it once was.” This includes online learning, blended instruction and learning without borders in which students collaborate with instructors and other students located anywhere.
“We are holding onto a one size fits all notion,” Hess said. “Public schooling is about educating our children both in their interests and in the interests of the nation. Any idea which advances that strikes me as entirely consistent with public education. Getting excited about steps on pay scales or the geography of school districts strikes me as profoundly missing the point.”
Hess pointed out that whereas 75% of parents might say attending the neighborhood school is a best first local option those same parents might also say they want more education choices, especially courses that are not offered by the local school because there is no teacher.
“The way to think about educational choice is to say, hey, if you would rather have your child learn online, or if you would rather have your child learn (a language course by) Rosetta Stone, we’re going to allow you to take a portion of the money we would have spent and you can use that money to purchase a service,” Hess said. “We’re starting to say parents (should) have an option to how they spend the dollars.”
Hess has been a research associate at his alma mater Harvard University since 1998 but his teaching career began in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana public high school, years that he describes as “frustrating, mind-numbing tedium” under the “Kafkaesque theories” of education bureaucrats.
Hess is not a big fan of the word “innovation” as applied to education because he suggests that often means doing nearly the same thing but giving it a different name. The world according to Hess preaches radical change to address new challenges that require new solutions.
“If the problem is that we need stronger role models and mentors for inner-city African-American and Latino children who are disaffected by grade seven then let’s talk about how do we get those people? Let’s stop calling them teachers. Let’s say, what is the job that we want them to do? What does that mentoring look like?
“If our funding arrangements and our job definitions don’t fit that role, let’s not try to retrofit the role to the mission,” Hess said. “Let’s change what we expect people to do to fit what we need them to do. It comes down to, what problem are we solving? The key is not thinking about one-size-fits all solutions to multi-faceted problems, but think about how do we create opportunities, tools and resources so people can solve problems in ways that fit those students?”
The option, of course, is American public education could become General Motors. Bad option.
Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
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