It’s happening beneath the radar of most media and the public, but it is a major conflict, nonetheless. The prize that is being fought over is accreditation – who decides which schools are “good enough” so that their students can receive federal financial aid (such as Pell grants).
Nominally, eight regional associations accredit most of the nation’s undergraduate school (they divide up the country like a cartel, says George Leef, and have little competition). But dissatisfaction with these organizations is strong, especially from Department of Education secretary Margaret Spellings. She is trying to persuade the accreditors to measure student learning, rather than tally inputs such as the number of books in the library.
Last week, Pope Center writer Shannon Blosser expressed our sorrow at the lives horribly cut short by the massacre at Virginia Tech. He said that it was wrong to “play the blame game,” as some of the media had started to do, so quickly after the tragedy. It was more appropriate, he said, to honor the victims whose lives ended so suddenly.
There would be time to examine the causes of this tragedy and consider future policies. Now is the time. Indeed, in blogs and op-eds, commentators have addressed three major issues: guns, university dealings with troubled students, and campus security, as well as made broader societal statements.
The Raleigh News and Observer has been quarrelling with a group based in Chapel Hill called the Citizens for Higher Education (CHE). CHE is the second-largest political action committee (PAC) in the state, measured by the amounts of money given to legislators. Its goal is to ”build political support for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the state’s other research universities.” In other words, it lobbies the legislature to obtain special benefits for the state’s leading public campuses.
The University of North Carolina is considering a minimum admission standard for all campuses, Harold L. Martin, senior vice president for academic affairs, told a meeting of the education planning committee of the Board of Governors Jan. 11. Such a standard could be proposed as early as June.
Currently, the requirement for attending any UNC campus is high school graduation and a minimum number of specified courses (such as 4 units of English and 4 units of math). A tougher admission standard could take the form of a minimum high school grade point average, class rank, and/or a minimum SAT score.
Outspoken faculty members with a strong political agenda have once again interfered in discussions about a potential donation to a North Carolina university.
Toby Parcel, dean of the College of Humanities and Social
Sciences at North Carolina State University, had quietly approached the Pope Foundation to explore funding for academic programs. But in a stormy public meeting in early December, some faculty members loudly and rudely made it clear that they don’t want their college to get any money from Pope.
Apparently opposing the Pope Foundation for its conservative political philosophy, several faculty members used over-the-top language, calling the money “dirty money” and saying that to accept funds would be “a very dangerous step.” (The discussions had involved support of a study abroad program and French and German language programs.)
It is often said that the United States has the best system of higher education in the world, and certainly North Carolinians take pride in their universities. But readers of these pages know that the image often differs from the reality.
While there are some excellent courses, all too frequently students are getting trendy and shallow courses such as those described in CJ’s Course of the Month. As George Leef has written, academic standards are falling, even while grades are going up. Today, college graduation is more a rite of passage than a sign of accomplishment.
How do we get our universities to adopt a more rigorous curriculum and provide young people with an education that values liberty, limited government, and free markets? These are questions that the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy has asked and will continue to address.