Can Colleges Ever Really Be Accountable?


I go on a bit about our system of higher education. Mostly I do this because I have been in and around it for over two decades so it is a beast that is quite familiar to me.

But that familiarity–which, yes, has bred an abiding contempt within my spirit–has remained because when it get too far away from my university campus, I don’t like what I see either. In fact, the world beyond the sacred groves of Academe is really quite atrocious. And I don’t want to draw a false distinction between my beloved grove and the “real” world. If what happens in DC or Wall Street or in the City of London is the “real” world… keep that shite for youselves.

The bright youths that I meet every semester at the University of North Texas and across the USA when I travel are the future of humanity. I want these folks to become thoughtful, caring, innovative, etc etc. The systems of higher education, however, are not much better than those in public secondary education at encouraging this.

Getting a degree because you received the right amount of credit hours is part & parcel of what I have been ranting about recently vis. pseudo-obligations. Throw everything into meeting these unnecessary “requirements”, and you get a degree. Now, not-so surprisingly enough, the non-academic desire to win football & basketball games–which are also pseudo-obligatory structures epiphenomenal to the target of enlightening young minds–reveals the weaknesses in making a degree about whether you have met the conditions of a given metric.

…our system is built around the strange idea of the “credit hour,” a unit of academic time that does little to measure student learning. The credit hour originated around the turn of the 20th century, when the industrialist-turned-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie moved to create a pension system for college professors. It’s now known as TIAA-CREF. Pensions were reserved for professors who worked full time, which ended up being defined as a minimum of 12 hours of classroom teaching per week in a standard 15-week semester.After World War II, higher education began a huge expansion, driven by the G.I. Bill, a changing economy and a booming middle class. It needed a way to count and manage millions of new students. Credit hours were easy to record, and already in place. That’s why today, credit hours determine eligibility for financial aid and graduation you generally need 120 for a bachelor’s degree.But colleges were left to judge the quality of credit hours by affixing grades to courses, and the quality of colleges themselves would be judged by — well, there was the rub. Colleges didn’t want to be judged by anyone other than themselves, and remarkably, the government went along with it.

via Who Will Hold Colleges Accountable? – NYTimes.com.

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