At the 2007 NCTE Annual Convention in New York, we had a featured session focusing on some of the potential actions stemming from the Spellings’ Commission on the Future of Higher Education. To gather information to address the report's recommendations, the Department of Education convened a series of regional summits to focus on the issues of accessibility, affordability, and accountability for higher education. The regional summits were attended by institutional representatives, including faculty, and we had representatives at all the summits. Our convention session was composed of me (Atlanta summit), Linda Adler-Kassner of Eastern Michigan University (Kansas City summit), Anne Herrington of University of Massachusetts, Amherst (Boston summit), John Webster of the University of Washington (Seattle summit), Duane Roen of Arizona State University (Phoenix summit), and Shelley Rodrigo of Mesa Community College (Phoenix summit).
To extend our conversation, we decided to use my blog space to send out our comments. I will start with an overview, and then the others' pieces will follow in the next few days. Of course, we invite commentary.
National Council of Teachers of English
How We Got Here
How did the greatest system of higher education, one that educated more of its own citizens, and more of the world’s citizens than any other, all of a sudden find itself under attack, with a Commission appointed to find out what is wrong, and the undersecretary of Education declaring that we were headed for a “trainwreck”? How did we get here?
Throughout the last decade or more, there has been a growing public perception, at least in the think-tank and policy world, that something was amiss. This was fueled by the publication of various reports starting with “A Nation at Risk” through “The Gathering Storm,” as well as recent studies that claimed students’ literacy and numeracy skills were no better, and perhaps worse, at the end of a college education than they had been at the beginning. In addition, the cost of attending college was rising faster than other costs. To be frank, we in the higher education community did not do much to dispel some of those assumptions and fears. With that, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings established a commission to initiate a dialogue about costs, quality, and access to higher education.
That report, “A Test of Leadership,” was issued just over a year ago. The report identified problems in affordability, accountability, access, and quality. Secretary Spellings issued an action plan that would address the issues through three initiatives, affordability, access, and accountability.
Affordability is being addressed through a streamlining of the financial aid application process and Congressional action to increase funding for financial aid. In addition, institutions are being asked to control cost increases, and as we speak the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act has language dropped in and pulled out that punishes or rewards colleges for cost curtailment.
Academic accessibility needs to be addressed through the states as they are the ones who control state high school graduation standards. But, the Department of Education is very impressed with ACHIEVE and the American Diploma Project. Accountability, however, is much closer to us, as that is being addressed through accreditation, and that affects each of our institutions.
To address accountability, the Department of Education convened a forum a year ago this month to address the issue. The attendees were higher education officials and consultants from across the country. In their public conversation, they began talking about establishing outcomes. I suggested to the Department of Education person in charge, Vickie Schray, that outcomes needed to be articulated through the disciplines and institutions that actually deliver the education. She agreed, and asked for names for regional summits held last June attended by institutional people. We provided names, and we had an average of five of our members at each of the regional summits.
Our attendees at the summit were able to speak frankly with the other attendees and with the representatives from the Department of Education. What follows are the comments from the attendees, reflecting their observations and reflections on the meetings. In the next few days, in this space, you will see comments from Linda Adler-Kassner, Anne Herrington, Duane Roen, Shelley Rodrigo, and John Webster, not necessarily in that order.
Friday, December 07, 2007