Friday, March 23, 2007

Exactly right 

Clark Patterson explains the conflict between access and accountability in college education:

On the one hand, academia is supposed to do everything in its power to increase access to higher education to a larger cross section of American society, particularly along race and class lines. This means enrolling more first generation college attendees, many of whom might not be ready for college. Yet Washington is willing to increase need-based financial aid in order to browbeat more students from �underrepresented groups� into matriculating.

On the other hand, colleges are under increasing pressure to improve their accountability in the form of quicker and higher graduation rates and greater student performance. A new batch of standardized testing has been proposed for graduating seniors. This Spellings Commission recommendation should be adopted as one objective means of partially determining what is gained from a four-year, $80,000 investment in a bachelor�s degree.

Unfortunately, one unintended consequence of the Spellings Commission�s adoption of both increased access and higher accountability will be grade inflation. If colleges and universities are told that they must increase access for students from historically-underrepresented groups � groups that don�t perform as well academically as whites and Asian-American students � yet the federal aid that colleges receive from Washington is directly tied to student academic success, will anyone be surprised if colleges respond to these conflicting goals by diluting their academic standards in order to graduate more students and maintain or increase their federal financial support?

No, we won't. In some places, it's already happened. So what's likely to happen? Don't be surprised by a push for national testing of college seniors, some day.