Am I Becoming Conservative?
I spent some time this morning reading the new Education Trust proposal, Tough Love: Bottom Line Quality Standards for Colleges. I’d label it a hard-core liberal approach to reforming our higher education system, in that it recommends centralized government intervention in the form of withholding federal grant funding if schools do not conform to certain standards. It received a prominent endorsement from the New York Times this morning.
There is no question that the issues this paper highlights – low college completion rates, low Pell-eligible enrollment rates at elite institutions, and generally disproportionately poor outcomes for low-income, African-American and Hispanic students – are profound.
It is easy to see that the Education Trust proposals will never work. In order to make their point, they oversimplify the complexity of our higher education system and are naive about the political forces at sway at the federal, state, and local levels.
It also needs to be said that the inequities that this report highlights are reflective of our society as a whole. I’m not sure I agree with ascribing nefarious motives to individual institutions based on this data as they do.
But mainly, I’m more comfortable with analyses that acknowledge the lack of rational or centralized planning in the American higher education system. There are many well-intentioned people in higher education, certainly as many as in other sectors. If you’re an arm-chair quarterback, perhaps you can take satisfaction in condemning institutions en masse and advocating for systemic change. If you want to work for change, I suspect it will happen along the contours of the actual higher education system – region by region, school by school, in the trenches, with the people actually doing the work.