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The Four Horsemen of Academic Reform 7 Margaret Spellings stood before us just as she stands before most audiences—smiling, comfortable , and confident, forever displaying her can-do, will-do determination . Though the challenge was large and time was short, just about a year, she expressed no doubts that her assembled commissioners would deliver a “comprehensive national strategy” addressing what the Chronicle of Higher Education called “such sweeping issues as access, affordability, accountability, and quality.”1 Without meaning to, the secretary had stumbled into what I subsequently realized was a linguistic cul-de-sac. Though she was celebrating an enterprise devoted to rationality, clear thinking, and precise exposition, she was asking her Commission to pursue goals that, for all their familiarity, had lost their meaning. Access, accountability, affordability , and quality are the four horsemen of higher education reform— goals that are talked about and ardently affirmed, but that in fact too often lead nowhere. In the time since the Commission’s demise, I have tried to understand what each of Spellings’s four horsemen might have once meant and just how seriously we ought to take—or not take—calls to make them the cornerstones of a federal higher education policy. This much is clear. Any reform agenda for higher education will, at some point or another, have to deal with the four horsemen. This volume is no exception , and hence this is as good a place as any to try to clear the confusion 107 CH007.qxd 6/16/09 9:46 AM Page 107 that these issues have introduced into the debate over higher education reform. Mostly I seek to make clear that the challenges ahead are not so neatly packaged as these four labels might seem to suggest. Access For more than fifty years, unfettered access to a college education has been the first goal of federal, state, and local higher education policy. Those who wanted a college education, who had prepared themselves to earn the degree, and who had exhibited the discipline and stick-to-it-ness necessary to succeed deserved a chance. A person’s race or ethnicity or gender, financial circumstances, political and religious beliefs, or physical incapacities could not be allowed to matter. Moreover, the term itself—access—reflected a deeply held belief that unfettered participation in the nation’s higher education system required the elimination of a set of very real barriers that had historically limited participation to the advantaged few. The first barriers to fall were products of racial and religious discrimination ; outright legislated segregation in the one case and, in the other, a more subtle but no less discriminating set of quotas and understandings used to limit the educational participation of first Catholics and later Jews. We forget at our peril just how persistent as well as successful these exclusionary practices were. Both African Americans and Catholics, in particular, developed their own institutions in response to exclusion, and they maintain them today as not-so-subtle reminders that no one who has felt the sting of discrimination is ever fully sanguine about their place in a culture in which they remain a minority. Through the 1950s, the relatively meager supply of colleges and universities represented a second major barrier to full educational access in the United States. In 1950, the nation had only 1,851 baccalaureate institutions, collectively enrolling just 2,659,021 undergraduates. Not surprisingly, the decennial census that year reported that just 6.2 percent of the population had college degrees. Fifty years later, the nation had 4,084 combined baccalaureate institutions and associatelevel community colleges; the latter was a fundamentally new kind of institution created in response to the demand for more access to a college education. Collectively these institutions enrolled 14,791,224 students . As of 2007, the census reported that 28.7 percent of the population had earned a baccalaureate degree, and another 25.3 percent reported that they had some college but not yet a bachelor’s degree. 108 MAKING REFORM WORK CH007.qxd 6/16/09 9:46 AM Page 108 The lowering of yet a third set of barriers, mostly psychological and cultural, that had once taught most Americans that “college education is not for me—it’s for them” helped fuel this extraordinary expansion . Amidst the hurly-burly of today’s admissions arms race, it is important to remember that as late as 1950, Harvard had just 1.3 applicants for each place in Harvard College’s freshman class. You simply...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813548463
Print ISBN
9780813545912
MARC Record
OCLC
593320275
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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