It is easy to understand legislators in Indiana and other states taking steps against public higher education. Public colleges and universities represent a different culture, a different set of values, a different point of view than are found in political and business lives.
In politics, the goal is to satisfy particular groups who offer their votes and money for one cause or another. In business, the goal is to satisfy the owners, which is often done by satisfying the customers of the business.
The goals of colleges and universities once were to satisfy a set of scholarly ideals maintained by the faculty. If a student could satisfy those goals, then s/he was awarded a document called a certificate or diploma; we then celebrated the event with a “graduation,” a moving on.
Yet, as public colleges and universities receive less and less of their funding from governments and businesses, the demands on those institutions are rising.
In the Hoosier state, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (IHEC) is pressuring for higher and higher graduation rates from our public institutions. State financial assistance is being tied to those rates.
Previously, the state paid a per-student amount to our public schools. The push was for more college students; schools responded by increasing enrollments. Now, the boards and administrators of colleges and universities are intent on seeing students graduate in four or two years, depending on the curriculum offered by the school.
This is considered efficient. If a student takes longer than the nominal time deemed necessary to complete a course of study, s/he is wasting his/her resources plus those of the school, the family and the taxpayers. Leading administrators now guarantee students they can complete their degrees in the designated time; all necessary courses will be offered with sufficient frequency to accommodate all students who apply themselves to their studies.
Lost in all this good will for the greater good is “How we are to know that the twin goals of education are being met?” First, does the student graduating “on-time” know his/her subject matter better than one taking additional semesters to graduate? Second, is the on-time graduate more thoughtful, insightful, civil, able to apply reasoning to a wide range of subjects, working from facts, not emotions? In effect, is this efficient student better educated than one who takes time to ripen in the garden of knowledge?
If certification is all we require, we can expect more students certified, whether or not they have achieved the goals of education. We see this in many of our primary and secondary schools. Certainly institutions of higher education will catch on and perfect degree milling.
Then it is only a short step to providing the equivalent of ISTEP examinations for colleges and universities. Who will create these exams, grade them and determine rewards for teachers and institutions? A Commission long under the heavy thumb of the Indiana General Assembly, that most astute and erudite body of citizens?
Mr. Marcus is an economist, writer, and speaker who may be reached at email@example.com.