Colleges should be held accountable for student outcomes, administrators say
- Most college leaders think institutions should be held more accountable for student outcomes, according to a new report by Third Way and Global Strategy Group based on a survey of 211 college administrators.
- Nearly three-fourths (73%) of respondents define higher education's value as its ability to "set students up for success in their careers," compared to 23% who say it is "to broaden the perspectives of students and make them better informed citizens."
- The majority of administrators said the government should withhold federal funds from institutions in several scenarios, including if their graduation rates fall below 15% (72% of respondents); if they don't spend at least one-third of tuition revenue on instruction (67%); and if their graduates don't earn more than they would have with solely a high school degree (56%).
The report comes as Congressional leaders seem increasingly likely to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the federal law governing higher education programs that hasn't been updated in more than a decade.
The Trump administration has weighed in with its priorities for the rewrite, which include streamlining accreditation, adding risk-sharing in financial aid agreements between colleges and students, and capping how much parents and graduate students can borrow.
Other groups have urged Congress to clamp down on poor-performing institutions by cutting off or limiting their access to federal aid.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are in agreement that more accountability is needed in higher education, though they differ on how to get there. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate's education committee, has proposed increasing oversight by collecting and sharing program-level data on whether students pay back their loans.
Some industry groups have criticized his proposal, however, arguing it could prompt colleges to set tuition prices by major and to limit low-income students' options by pushing them into less-expensive programs.
Democrats have been pushing for tougher oversight of for-profit colleges. And Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, on Thursday proposed an accountability system that would judge all colleges on graduation rates, loan repayment rates and the share of of low-income students who graduate, Inside Higher Ed reported.
New bipartisan legislation in the House and Senate calls for program-level data collection. And hearings in both chambers have discussed what the "triad" of accreditors, states and the federal government should do to better protect students.
That discussion has taken on particular importance after the U.S. Department of Education reached consensus earlier this month on proposed new rules for accreditation. The various higher ed stakeholders settled on language that would give colleges more flexibility to modify programs and reduce oversight of accreditors. Some observers worry that the new rules could lead to abuses such as credit inflation that in the past left students with higher costs and lower value for their degrees.
The majority of administrators surveyed by Third Way agreed more could be done to ensure their institutions are setting up students for success, including in the job market.
However, they also think the government should play a role in improving student outcomes. On a scale of zero to 10, they ranked the federal government (7.3) as "having the most power" over improving loan repayment rates, with colleges coming in second at 6.7. Employment outcomes are flipped, with institution leaders saying colleges "have the most power to improve them" (7.5), though they still indicated the federal government has power (6.5) in this area, too.
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