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AAC&U President Comments on Release of US Department of Education College Scorecard

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Our colleagues in the Department of Education want the best for American college students, we know.  Leaders in our government, from the president on down, have benefited from a strong liberal education, both at public and private institutions. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the president charged the Department of Education to create a Scorecard that, however well-intended, reinforces the message to students that college is primarily about getting in, getting out, and getting a job.  Yet it is the quality of their learning that is the key to each student’s hopes for a vibrant future. And, moreover, the quality, breadth, reach, and equitable impact of the college experience is the key to the future of our economy and of our democracy. 

The Scorecard released today provides no information about either the quality of learning or the role of higher education in building democratic capacity.  It contributes, therefore, to the gradual narrowing of the American dialogue about the purposes of education.  As we noted in earlier statements, the Department of Education was wise to abandon the idea of “rating” colleges, universities, and community colleges on the basis of very limited metrics that tell us nothing about the quality of learning or the benefits of learning beyond post-graduation salary levels.  The Department’s energies and resources would have been far better spent on supporting efforts to strengthen the quality of college learning and to ensure that all students have equitable access to a liberating education.

I affirm once again what AAC&U’s board of directors rightly noted in 2013: “A college degree demonstrably increases the likelihood of gaining employment, but the true "value" of college is ultimately about learning and the difference a good education makes in many aspects of our graduates' lives—in their long-term success in a changing economy, in their civic participation, and in their personal development and individual flourishing. The "value" of our colleges, universities, and community colleges also encompasses their impact on the vitality and integrity of our democracy, on research and the advancement of knowledge, on community partnerships, and on global and economic development and innovation.”

The paltry discussions of learning and quality in the policy and technical papers released along with the Scorecard are a source of profound national embarrassment.  They show a determined indifference to the huge progress made over the past decade both in defining sine qua non components of a quality college education and in providing evidence about the extent to which colleges, universities, and community colleges are working to improve student achievement on a set of essential learning outcomes that both educators and employers consider fundamental. 

Carol Geary Schneider