Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama Gets Tough On Education; What About Higher Ed?

This commenter said it better than I can:

It’s interesting that Obama, a part-time university professor, takes on teachers’ unions, but ignores rampant inflation in university tuition.

Why does Obama demand accountability of grade-school teachers, but not of universities? Tuitions have gone up 400% in about the last decade. There is absolutely no justification for such egregious increases.

Obama’s plans to offer even bigger tuition subsidies, without requiring reform of university finances, will simply feed more inflation that undoes the benefits of scholarships and loans.

Universities are run with the same condescension and air of entitlement that plagues Wall St., and taxpayers are footing the bill in both cases.

1 comment:

Tom Haskins said...

Hi Anya
I've been pondering this question you've raised. I'm equally surprised by the seeming contradiction in approaches that Obama is taking between K-12 and higher ed improvements. Here's a few ideas I've come up with to explain the blatant neglect of tuition inflation:

The Federal Government maintains a Department of Education with a large budget it can wield to influence changes in K-12 programs. Fed money into higher ed funds research, subsidizes some new programs, and mostly improves access for students. There's no funding/structure to incentivise college boards, presidents, chancellors, etc -- to make changes in higher ed's business model, cost structure or value proposition.

The K-12 world is crawling with authors, consultants, conferences and books to improve how subjects get taught, capture student interest, connect to student experiences, etc. The higher ed world only has the equivalent buzz of continual innovation in what gets taught: new topics, textbooks and course listings. There is a staggering neglect of innovative teaching methods. In it's place there are lots of war stories about professors who defy pressures to make changes in their course designs and an accepted tradition of blaming the student who finds fault with teaching methods while expecting them to drop out of college.

K-12 school districts serve tax payers who pay with property taxes and approve bond issues. The educators are accountable to the public and must serve them as their ultimate customers. Higher ed serves accreditation boards, academic review panels, and to a lesser extent: alumni and parents of enrolled students. It function as more of an echo chamber of self congratulations, over confidence and insular expectations.

K-12 teachers conduct parent teacher conferences and presentations on how their grading will be done. Teachers are constantly formulating responses to parental inquires about how individual students are getting along with others, grasping the material, paying attention in class, etc. They are in a service business with constant pressures to appear responsive, capable and open minded. Higher ed does none of this for parents, evades every one of these "customer service" pressures and organizes itself as self-serving institutions.

From this perspective, it's no wonder the Obama administration appears to be taking a "hands-off" approach to soaring tuition offered by unresponsive institutions of higher ed.