It is understandable that citizens and policymakers want taxpayer-funded universities to show proof that students are learning. But are government-mandated standardized tests-currently under serious consideration by a federal panel-the answer? The 4,000-plus institutions of higher education vary wildly in institutional structure, educational goals, and academic focus. How would students studying a range of subjects from art history to chemical engineering to animal husbandry be compared with anything but a "lowest common denominator" measure? And why would 20-year-old college students (adults, remember) make an effort on such tests? The accountability impulse is sound, but in the case of the higher education marketplace, the old doctor's oath is apropos: first do no harm.
"Colleges pushed to prove worth," by Patrick Kerkstra, Philadelphia Inquirer, March 28, 2006