Rick Perry is someone I have long underestimated; his policies have kept us in relatively safe economic order despite the effect of national energy policies on a state that makes much from oil and despite the fact that some of the highest rates of illegal immigration and drug wars are on our borders. Instapundit links his policy on education. Reining in academic bureacracies, perqs and salaries is not anti-intellectual. It is egalitarian. Expecting state colleges to prove the value of the credentials they “sell” is the responsibility of government regulation.
MLA has pioneered an accreditation of English speaking: trained listeners grade speakers on their mastery of English. This becomes a useful indicator of the student’s proficiency – one often hard to know from credit hours. (A similar pattern exists at here: the Spanish teachers found such varied levels of competency from similar credentials that they now administer their own tests and dialogues for appropriate placement.) Such accreditation can be done, even in the liberal arts.
Education is relatively simple unless we want to see it as a “life experience.” Higher education should be undertaken for one of two goals: 1) because a college is an efficient way to impart specific knowledge that can be used in practical ways (most often, on the job). 2) because someone really enjoys the life of the mind. The former may require some subsidies and perhaps loans are not a bad investment for doctors and engineers. I have no problem with the second; not too far into my graduate work, I realized that I was not likely to get a tenure-track position. I was making $2800 a year (even in 1971 that wasn’t much money) but I could support myself by teaching freshmen and sophomores while spending a good part of my time reading and writing. However, I also wanted children and so I eventually opted for a job of providing a needed service. Society should have no problem with the first, though considerable checks should be placed if society foots the bill. And it should discourage student loans. However, faculty that sees a two-class teaching load as onerus but pulls in 3-figure salaries may rationalize their usefulness, but I’m not sure if society needs to accept those rationalizatons. Certainly, the workers at Wal-Mart, whom these scholars often deride, should not have to support them – nor should the businessmen who work eighty-hour weeks. Rich or poor, others pay taxes which are used to support relatively easy lives, when these lives are not devoted to the training of these workers’ offspring.
I will acknowledge that any emphasis upon graduation rates seems to me to be a real moral hazard – we don’t need to graduate students who shouldn’t graduate; open admissions in schools like ours is a wonderful opportunity; graduation should be earned. Nor are admittance checks that weed out those who screwed up the first time around and are ready to do quite well a good thing. But this can be tweaked. Exit test standings would be a useful first step.