“Quality” is not a word policy makers often use when they talk about
higher education. “Accountability,” “attainment,” “persistence,” “transparency” are all the lexical rage. But don’t use the “Q word” unless you are prepared to seem old-fashioned, out of style, archaic, pretentious, or, worst of all, elitist.
But on April 265th 2013 the “Q word” started to appear in the prose of the federal Department of Education: “The Department announced it will begin conversations with the higher education community on rules that would be designed to ensure colleges and universities are providing students a high-quality education …” That sounds pretty good until one reads on and sees what the feds mean by quality: …” that prepares them for the workforce and lifelong success”. www2.ed.gov/news/newsletters/edreview/2013.
Now I get it: they have hijacked the Q Word. They want it as a smokescreen for job preparation.
So what will these rules be? We may begin to find out in May: “Hearings on these subjects will be held in May in San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. Based on comments at these hearings, the Department will draft a list of topics to be considered by rulemaking committees. Negotiations would likely begin this fall. … “.
My hunch is that the a soft-landing from this process would be a more sophisticated version of what Virginia has imposed on its colleges and universities – a requirement that they publish average salaries earned by graduates eighteen months after graduation. The Virginia results are flawed in many ways, for example by excluding the self-employed, US government employees or those working outside the Commonwealth. The results, however, have been widely reported, for example by the Wall Street Journal, with a chart that looks (in part) like this:
George Mason $41,153
Va. Polytech $38,957
Old Dominion $36,576
James Madison $35,224
College of William & Mary $34,571
Virginia State $28,820
Note: Virginia State is a historically black institution. Its salary data presumably reflect in part the persistent difficulty African-Americans have in attaining high paying work. The Virginia reporting system, in other words, builds racism into its results.
And, of course the figures can be sliced in the other direction, to show average salaries by major.
A hard landing in the federal process would make Pell grants and other federal funds contingent on an institution’s graduates attaining certain levels of job placement or salary.
Either outcome sends the message, “That’s what college is for -- ‘workforce preparation and [financial] success’.” The process is flawed from the outset by the way the issue is framed. Once that mistake has been made, no outcome is likely to be beneficial.
That point needs to be made at the public hearings, whose schedule is this:
May 21, 2013 -- U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., Eighth Floor Conference Center, 1990 K Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20006
May 23, 2013 -- University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Cowles Auditorium, 301 19th Avenue S, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55499.
May 30, 2013 -- University of California, San Francisco, UC Hall, Toland Hall Auditorium (Room U142), 533 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, California 94143