Letter Printed in the Washington Times

December 06, 2007

Letters to the Editor

Overlooked in your story about transparency in higher education ("Colleges to let public glimpse insider data," Nation, Tuesday) was the recently initiated U-CAN college consumer Web site. The University and College Accountability Network (www.ucan-network.org), made available by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) on Sept. 26, gives prospective students and parents free, user-friendly and concise consumer information on hundreds of private institutions. The content and format of the Web site were shaped by focus groups with consumers.

For each participating school, U-CAN provides statistical and narrative information, including average price of attendance and net tuition, five-year tuition trends, graduation rates, average loan debt and more. Unlike the project under consideration by our public-sector colleagues, U-CAN provides access to every college profile from one central Web site. Already, there have been more than 400,000 page views by prospective students and their parents, and by public policy and political officials.

A link from each U-CAN profile takes visitors to a description of academic achievement on the institution's own Web site. Each school decides for itself what information to provide. It could be National Survey of Student Engagement data, alumni satisfaction survey results, Graduate Record Examination scores, the results of an institution-designed measure or something completely different.

The NAICU supports the choice by any college or university to develop and use learning outcome measures. What we oppose is the prescription of learning outcomes by legislative or regulatory action, rather than by an institution's voluntary choice.

There's a faulty premise that underlies the crusade by Arthur Rothkopf and others to impose standardized learning measures on higher education: That there's homogeneity in the academic missions and educational programs across the nation's 7,000 colleges and universities. Attempting to find a common standard of measure for major research universities, liberal arts colleges, rabbinical schools, Southern Baptist institutions and the rest of the incredibly diverse private sector is a fool's errand.

Even worse is the underlying belief by Mr. Rothkopf and others that the federal government should have authority to dictate to private institutions and state universities how to gauge student performance. Bureaucrats should not be allowed to strip away this fundamental component of institutional self-government. Student learning, academic quality and educational performance would all be damaged by such unprecedented action.

David L. Warren
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities

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