Laws & Guidance HIGHER EDUCATION
Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965
Quality and Accountability Strategies Panel of Experts Question and Answer Session
Archived Information



MR. ANDRADE: Thank you very much, Mr. Leef.

First, as we did with the previous panel, we'll take questions from the panel here, and then open it up to questions from the floor. And I'll defer first to the Assistant Secretary for any questions she might have.

MS. STROUP: I don't have any questions.

MR. ANDRADE: Okay. Then I will start off. Mr. Davis, you had talked about, and I agree with you, the old adage where you need financial aid to go to college, but you need to go to college in order to understand how to apply for financial aid. In terms of the academics of it, you've sat down with your children and addressed the types of things that we're talking about -- institutional report cards and information on tracks. As a parent, how would you see that being helpful, as opposed to what is currently available now in making those decisions?

MR. DAVIS: Accountability to the school. The counselor tells the kid that they need certain courses just because this teacher needs that many in her class, and a kid doesn't need that course, that money should be refunded to the government, if they're paying for it, or to the parents.

MR. ANDRADE: What kind of resources did you have available when you were sitting down with your kids deciding which schools to go to? And what were some of the critical factors that they and you thought about in making those decisions?

MR. DAVIS: I wanted cheap, you know. I wanted to be able to pay for it, so that's why we got stuck with Penn Valley. Both of our oldest girls went there, and we found out that wasn't going to work; cheating never works, it never really does.

But I was going cheap; and I could pay $1,500. Well, it didn't work, so then we shipped them away, and that's when we found out those classes couldn't go with them. Well, two at one, and one went a whole year, went to nursing school, and none of her classes could be transferred.

MR. ANDRADE: And nobody told her that at the beginning of the process?

MR. DAVIS: No. Because, I mean, I went with my kids to the school to the counselors. Blue Davis doesn't know about it, so I went to the counselor, took the counselor for her word; and she filled out the programs for the kids, told them what they needed to take.

Like, my daughter's taking some kind of gym class, and her major is English; it's crazy, you know. And right now today up at Warrensburg, she's taking an art class she doesn't need.

But we are getting educated now. We're dealing with it, my wife and I. We have to stop, slow down, and start being more forward. I think if the government's dealing out all this money for these people to go to school, they should hold the schools accountable, like this guy just said, get a checklist, you know, and see how many people are taking rock music classes; and if the government's paying for a rock music class, they should just tell them they can't do it; their money's not going to go to that. And if you trick the student and get him into something he doesn't need, the government is not going to pay for it, and I bet you they will stop.

MR. BRYANT: I just want to make a general comment. Blue and I have something in common; he's a 25-year Marine veteran, and I'm a 28-year Army veteran. And he has three kids in school, and when I went away to college, there were three of us in school at the same time. My question to you in looking for ways to finance your daughter's -- your children's -- education, did you think of the Army ROTC, or the ROTC scholarship? Did you think of the health profession scholarship? These are scholarships that will pay for full tuition and fees for them to attend college, plus give them the stipend as a Second Lieutenant; have you heard of those programs?

MR. DAVIS: I know about all the programs, but if the kid doesn't want to be a part of the military, and I'm a Marine and I wanted my son to go to the Marine Corps, he chose not to; I don't want to force him into anything. So in school, I wanted them to be happy at the school they chose to go to. And scholarships do help; I got a daughter graduating this year; she's top of her class. So her being at the top of her class is going to get us some scholarships. And a lot of money does come, but those are just $500, $100. You have to get a ton of them, and then it takes a whole summer of full-time work just to get all that together, you know.

But that's cool; I'm not crying. I'm just saying that where the government is taking care of all these other people just because they're single, and they almost make me -- well, not almost make me, but they make some people want to go cheap, you know, say I'm single and I need this break from the government, and that shouldn't be.

MR. BRYANT: Thank you. Now, Dawn, you mentioned something about writing skills, the lack thereof, which I tend to agree with. Have you all, or has your state, taken a lead in going to the general assembly, or going to the State Board of Education and mandating that writing courses be included in the State's standards of learning?

MS. MURPHY: I don't know. I don't know. I didn't have time to research into that.

MR. BRYANT: Okay. Thank you.

MR. ANDRADE: Dawn, I'd like to follow-up. Obviously, as one of the larger employers in the City, you get a lot of graduates that come in from local colleges; has any college ever approached you in terms of working with them to help reform the curriculum?

MS. MURPHY: No, it's been quite the opposite. We've approached a couple of colleges to try to develop some kind of partnership, and we don't get very far because it seems to be a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of roadblocks for us. We have approached a couple of the community colleges to develop more of a partnership for a position that we have that's a very popular position called "Patient Care Tech," and we get nowhere because we are told that it would be months, if not years, before it could wind through the politics to help us. So they're not coming to us; we've approached them, and we haven't gotten very far.

MR. BRYANT: Jeanne, you mentioned a number of measures that are placed in writing -- for example, graduation rates, et cetera, et cetera -- that were placed in writing and given to the general public. Now, is this something that's given to every household in the state? And you mentioned this information being placed on-line, which I think is a very good idea. How many hits, I'm curious, how many hits do you experience on this particular site, people who are going there to see just how well those colleges and universities are performing?

MS. ADKINS: I'm not sure I can give you the exact number to date, but I can give you the number of website hits in state through the end of January; it would be 171,000. The site would have been up at that point 11 months, completely operational; it went operational in February 2002.

The published guide was mailed to each high school, depending on the size of the junior and senior class at each high school. In some cases with the larger high schools, we mailed literally thousands of them to several of the large districts in the state. Small districts, the rural districts, they did go to the high schools. We mailed four copies to each state public library.

That library access, the Colorado Library Access Network actually has the current website version of the consumer guide as a direct access to many of its computer home pages, which students look at.

So from that perspective, it is very accessible to the public on a regular basis. The on-line versions are actually updated quarterly, so all of the information on tuition, fees, class sizes, faculty workloads, there's a distance learning catalogue, a whole set of resources are updated quarterly.

MR. BRYANT: Thank you.

MS. STROUP: Jeanne, my question is: Since it's been in effect, have they seen improvement in Colorado; have the numbers changed?

MS. ADKINS: Fair question. In two areas, definitely. As a matter of fact, one of our strongest opponents of doing the graduation rate assessment at four years who said, you know, four-year institutions will never get legitimate four-year graduation rates, actually had a press release two weeks ago to the State's newspapers touting its new four-year graduation rate success.

The legislature mandated in the same statute a reduction to allow students to graduate in four years of credit hours. So where institutions were not meeting the 100 to 126-credit-hour level, the legislature said: Thou shalt. And so the Commission has spent the last four years doing curriculum program reviews at each of the institutions to reduce that credit creep and get everyone in that level.

MS. STROUP: My other question is -- because we're going to hear about it as we talk about accountability, and everybody knows this -- we hear why this can't work or why we can't do this, as you heard in Colorado four years ago. Just out of curiosity, what kinds of reasons were you given for why this wasn't going to work and was a bad idea?

MS. ADKINS: Actually, a lot. And some of them, frankly, make sense. And I would be remiss if I didn't say from the philosophy of our Governor's office currently and our legislature and the Commission, we don't necessarily believe one size fits all.

We're not here today advocating that the Federal Government duplicate what Colorado's done. There are 37 states that do some sort of accountability measures. We've perhaps defined it more clearly than some states have because we actually tie it to performance budgeting. And new budget dollars on an annual basis are actually awarded to institutions based on the formula within what the Commission has developed.

In direct response, I think the biggest issue is: You cannot pick benchmarks that are uniform across all categories of institutions, and I think that was the first misconception when implementing this program beginning in 1999 that I encountered. I had the unique experience of being in the General Assembly as a member in 1996 when the legislation was adopted, and then was the initial implementer in my position at the Department when it was required to be implemented.

There were institutions who said benchmarks should be what we choose, and it took us a long time in the initial year to get to what actual benchmarks should be. There are peer institution groups, and it seemed to us after much discussion and debate that peer benchmarks were the most appropriate; that you need to rate full-scale universities with other full-scale universities of like size and mission and purpose.

The academic mission of the institution is important. Where we did diverge from a couple of our institutions was that they wanted to choose different peers for different measures.

In other words, they wanted to be measured in two categories against this group of peers, and in another three categories against this group of peers. We felt that because of the lack of available peer information at many institutions, it was just impossible to administer. So we required that institutions agree to a specific number and set of peers that would uniformly be used from year to year.

So I think that is the one issue that was most contentious. The second issue was the number of hours professors were working, and establishing the class preps and class time definitions was very controversial. And we have to date, not found comparable peer information across the country; it is just simply not kept. And the legislature in Colorado thinks that's a very important measure. We continue to measure it year to year internally, but to be able to evaluate that measure against peer information nationally has been almost impossible for us to achieve.

MR. BRYANT: George?

MR. LEEF: Yes?

MR. BRYANT: Thank you for the outstanding work your organization puts forth each year, and please give my regards to Jerry Martin.

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MR. LEEF: I will do so, Mr. Bryant.

MR. BRYANT: I read the document that you all published on accreditation. I'm curious as to the response of the higher education community to that document and to the recommendations that you-all made?

MR. LEEF: The accreditors didn't like it. In fact, there is a piece in the current Chronicle of Higher Education written by Judith Easton, the president of CHEA, in which she makes what I think is a feeble attempt to defend the record of the accreditors. Needless to say, they don't like things that upset the status quo.

I'd like to revert to something, I think that's telling right at this juncture, though: When there were hearings in the House last fall, one witness who came a considerable distance to Washington to speak, and this was former Senator Hank Brown of Colorado who served as president of the University of Northern Colorado after he left the Senate.

Well, one thing that Hank said that I thought stunned the accreditor community when they heard him say this, is that the accrediting agency that oversaw the University of Northern Colorado paid almost no attention to academic quality measures; it was the State regulators who were paying attention to that. And I think you will find that is overwhelmingly true throughout the United States.

The accrediting community has turned a blind eye to the degradation of the curriculum. Despite the fact that they all have standards that say schools are expected to offer a sound general program of education, many don't, but none ever is chastened for that. On the other hand, you do find that State regulatory bodies, especially in states where you have education minded governors, they do sometimes, as in the case of Colorado, come down hard and say: We don't want students graduating who can't write.

So if you're looking for serious movement on that, I think you will be looking in vain to the accrediting community. They may talk a good game on this, but, in fact, they've done nothing.

MR. BRYANT: Thank you.

MR. ANDRADE: And I'd like to follow up on that. One of the criticisms that I have heard to your proposal in terms of not relying on accreditation as a standard for federal programs, is what else would the Federal Government rely on to ensure quality? How would you address that criticism that's been raised?

MR. LEEF: Good point. What keeps quality where it is, is not accreditation standards, it's competition. Schools cannot afford to become so bad that they're a laughing stock.

Their faculties don't want to become so bad they're a laughing stock; their alumni don't want to be laughing stocks; the professors don't want to become a laughing stock; administrators.

That is what keeps quality from getting any lower than what it is, the force of competition. The worry about the accreditors coming by every 10 years and saying: Well, you've got to show that you're in compliance with all these standards; most of which have nothing do with educational output, that exerts virtually no power in the way of maintaining academic quality. So if we got rid of it, we wouldn't lose anything.

Now, what I would suggest however is that I believe the Department could write regulations such that institutions would not be eligible and, in fact, would be penalized if they took federal aid, if they were practicing what we might call "educational fraud"; that is saying, awarding diplomas in return for no academic work.

I think such regulations could be written in a neutral and unobjectional fashion so that some institution that opens up in the West Indies and is selling diplomas in exchange for about the same amount of money you get in federal aid, would not be eligible and, in fact, could be required to pay such money back and be penalized for doing so.

Years ago when I was working in the State legislature in Michigan, the issue of safety came up, and this is a little bit of a digression, but I think I'll be able to make my point here. A lot of people said: Well, the way we have to have safety is just to stifle competition, to make sure the trucking companies make enough money so they can afford safety measures.

Former chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Commission under President Carter, Alfred Conn, commented and, in fact, I made a point of searching him out today at this conference, said: If you're concerned about safety, directly regulate for safety. Well, I think that's what we should do. We're concerned about educational fraud; directly regulate against educational fraud.

Let's not make every institution go through the extreme cost and intrusiveness, in many cases, of the accreditation process. Let's not make Harvard go through that; let's not make UMKC go through that; let's not make all the schools who have solid academic reputations go through this, even the ones that don't have so solid academic reputations, simply because we're afraid that there might be some educational fraud practice. We can get rid of that in a better way.

MR. ANDRADE: Thank you. Do you have any further questions?

MR. BRYANT: No.

MR. ANDRADE: At this point, we will open up questions to the floor. We do have a microphone going around, so just identify yourself. Okay. We'll start in the back here and then work to Mr. Burd.

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MS. PERRY: My name is Andrea Perry; I'm with the Technical College in Columbia, South Carolina. I'd like to just throw out three words that I heard from the panel up there: Standards, benchmarks, and competition.

I do remember several decades ago when the scholastic aptitude test was retooled; and it seems that at the time it was retooled, that's when I consider education started a deterioration which has led to people not being able to read and write, as you said. I don't know if that's why it was retooled; I'm ignorant as far as that's concerned. If you know, I'd appreciate knowing. But if that is the case, how do you counteract that and get back to where we were where students could read, write, and put sentences together once they graduated from high school?

MR. ANDRADE: Anyone on the panel want to address that?

MS. ADKINS: I would be happy to address that from Colorado's perspective. The General Assembly has actually required the Commission to reevaluate core courses at all two-year and four-year institutions to ensure that basic education skills are met. They've instituted a strong remedial program. Today, actually, there is a study that's being released in Colorado that talks about the need for more work between community colleges and the State's high school system, because so many students are coming into the community college and four-year college system without basic skills in one area or another. And they may be, for example, appropriately skilled to enter college in English and writing skills, but lack math skills; or they may have math skills, and not have English skills.

They have set standards in the State, and I do believe that this is a state issue; that states need to be more concerned about how their two-year and four-year institutions are interfacing with their high schools in developing the federal requirements for No Child Left Behind. It is not something the Federal Government is going to be able to help states do. I just think very strongly that that's an obligation that state legislatures and governors' offices have.

MR. LEEF: Yes. I'd like to comment briefly on that question as well. The recensoring of the scholastic aptitude test I think was not the cause, but the effect, of educational dry rot that had been occurring for many years throughout our K-12 system. It was designed to help cover up the fact that many students really were very poorly prepared for college.

Now, in years gone by, decades gone by, colleges would have said no to these students: You're just not ready for us. Maybe you could go to a two-year college and improve your skills, but, no, you can't handle our workload. Well, along about 1970s, I think, many administrations began to make a bargain with the devil; they decided: We'll take these students, even though they're woefully unprepared for college, because we want the revenues. They wanted to expand, more bodies. It was good for them, except it put downward pressure on academics, standards to accommodate the students who weren't really ready for college, and may not have had a great deal of interest in academic pursuits. They lowered their standards.

There's a wonderful piece that was written about five years ago by Professor Paul Trout at Montana State, where he talked about disengaged students and the plight of academic standards. And I think he's connected the two dots here perfectly, when they admit large numbers of students into colleges who really don't care much about learning, in fact, may regard college-level work as an imposition on their fun time. The inevitable result, if you want to keep these people and pay revenue, the inevitable result is you lower your standards.

That's what they've done; it's been a bargain with the devil, and I don't know that that can really be counteracted, except by a massive change in the way higher education views its student body. Unless they start to say: No, we really don't want numbers; we want quality, and they're willing to put up with lots of dormitory space that's unused, and getting rid of professors who they no longer have need for, we're going to be faced with this problem for quite some time.

MR. ANDRADE: Steven.

MR. BURD: I've got three questions. Number one to Blue Davis, were any of your children forced, or required to take that class on sitcoms or rock music?

MR. DAVIS: My wife said yes.

MRS. DAVIS: My daughter at CMSU, the art classes she's required to take as an English major is a class -- well, it was a multiple choice I should say, but the choice she made was to study movies, the history of movies.

MR. DAVIS: Which cost me money.

MRS. DAVIS: Which she is bored to tears with taking. And the other choices were less stimulating than the choice she made. Which, you know, I don't know -- I can tell you the process that I've gone through in getting my kids in school has been very disappointing. Because once I see they're in school, the expectations for me are not being met.

MR. DAVIS: What she's saying is, all the work that she did to help them get in school, and then when they get in school and there's nothing, to study movies, you know, that's crazy.

MRS. DAVIS: The most important thing she's excited about is having her own room so she doesn't have to share it.

MR. BURD: Sure. Okay. My second question is to Mr. Leef: Would part of your proposal be that the Federal Government should go through the curriculum of each college to decide whether it meets the standards of the counsel?

MR. LEEF: No. Absolutely not.

MR. BURD: Well, how do you counteract the degradation of the curriculum?

MR. LEEF: We wouldn't counteract it; it would simply give people more information to identify where it has occurred.

MR. BURD: Okay. And third, I was interested in why you don't have any accreditors on the panel since the panel is about accreditation? I mean, just since you have a pretty strong attack against accreditation, I was wondering, has there been any thought on having someone from the accrediting agency up there?

MR. ANDRADE: We had an open invitation to anyone who wanted to come and speak here. We do have one agency, but we don't have anyone from the major accreditors who chose to take our invitation here or submit comments. So the opportunity was made available for accreditors to be here.

Any other questions?

MS. DIAZ: I would like to comment.

MR. ANDRADE: Go ahead.

MS. DIAZ: My name is Pilar Diaz, and I represent the Center for Employment Training. Going back to your comments about hands-on experience in people going out there for jobs; we are a job-training institution, but yet we serve very under-represented groups.

And in order for to us provide financially to these groups, we had to eliminate a lot of the training areas, hands-on training areas, to comply with the Department of Education's requirements to be able to provide financial assistance to these students.

So we are between training and education, and yet I see the need for hands-on training. And, unfortunately, some of us -- I guess a lot of institutions, have to focus so much on that piece, that academic piece, that we have to eliminate the training part of the programs.

MR. ANDRADE: Thank you. Any more questions? Comments? Okay. We will adjourn for lunch. We will start back at 1:30 with additional panels and witnesses. Thank you for attending and enjoy your lunch.

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Last Modified: 02/23/2009