DN: This is the big issue. We don’t have a very good metric. One strategy that people are talking about now is following students by some kind of unit tracking that can monitor them wherever they go. Every institution that’s played a role would get a certain percentage of credit for whatever they contributed to a student’s degree.
I don’t have the silver bullet. I don’t know how to say, “this should replace graduation rates.” A lot of smart people are working on it. Until we get that figured out we’re not going to be able to make institutional assessments effectively.
WM: Would we need to bring together all of these smart people to create alternative measures if we really just, well, funded higher education properly? If all students had the money they needed both for education and for living expenses, the way Americans did in the aftermath of World War II, and the way they do in Sweden today, couldn’t we measure them all the same way?
DN: I’ve asked myself that often. What if we had a federal program such that every person with a certain level of talent and motivation got all educational expenses paid? Absolutely you could then compare institutions. It would be a great way to assure that we are measuring the same thing at every institution. Universities like mine would be amazingly effective if our students didn’t have to deal with the financial challenges that they face every single day.
WM: In what area does the American university most need help?
DN: We are often defending ourselves against allegations of practices that are not in fact the case. We are alleged, for example, to be against accountability. but most of those allegations are actually not true. But we haven’t done a very good job of articulating the many changes and adjustments that have occurred in higher education. There’s a huge range of institutions. When I listen to criticism of American colleges I find it very hard to find UTEP in the picture that I see critics painting about higher education. We don’t hear enough about public universities that serve low-income students, and there are a lot of such institutions. There’s far too much focus on excessive salaries or facilities and too little on the success of students and the institutions that serve them.
WM: What does the American university do best?
DN: We offer greater opportunities to young people than is the case in most places across the world. The public universities in particular are committed to this. We’ve been supported in that by community colleges and others that are partnering with us to make that affordability and accessibility real for students. [Image via]
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