We reported a while back on the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which was established by Margaret Spellings to evaluate whether the nation's colleges were, among other things, producing educated graduates and charging affordable rates. The commission approved a report of its findings last Thursday, and although the final document (according to the New York Times) urges "a broad shake-up of American higher education," some of its toughest provisions were watered down. Earlier report drafts, for example, said "states should require" public colleges to evaluate their students with standardized tests. The final version simply said universities "should measure student learning" with such tests. Yes, that would still be progress when compared with current reality, and if we hadn't seen the early drafts we'd be giving three cheers. Two would seem more appropriate now. The commission's extremely able chairman, Charles Miller, couldn't entirely overcome establishment resistance--a problem caused largely by Secretary Spellings's initial decision to stack the panel with higher ed establishmentarians. Meanwhile, Kevin Carey, writing in the Washington Monthly, makes clear just how poorly some of the country's top universities are educating their students and how unaccountable they are. These institutions often get away with it, Carey notes, by suppressing data which would bring their shortcomings to light. Are we destined for another 20 years of hearing that America has "the best higher education system in the world?"

"Panel's Report Urges Higher Education Shake-Up," by Sam Dillon, New York Times, August 11, 2006 

"Is Our Students Learning?," by Kevin Carey, Washington Monthly, September 2006

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