The hammer of choice

When all you have is hammer, everything looks like nail.

In reading  today’s piece “Disunited Front” in InsideHigherEd, I can’t help but be amused.

David Warren, the president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said that his group opposes such a shift in the distribution of federal aid because it would harm student choice. Private colleges firmly believe that federal student aid should be, in effect, a voucher for students to use at the college that is best for them, he said.

Over at the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, in a statement opposing Gainful Employment regulations:

“At a time when America is facing a growing skills gap, and many Americans are facing an opportunity gap, the department should be working with all sectors of higher education to promote access, simplification, and accountability. Instead, the department is continuing down the path of eliminating opportunity and choice for many new traditional students who are simply not interested in attending a four-year university. We will not idly standby and allow the department to limit access to critical postsecondary education programs that address the skills gaps and capacity gaps that exist in this country.”

Absent context, I’m not sure most people would be unable to distinguish the difference in origins of the two statements, even graduates of the finest institutions in the country. When the ratings proposal hit the streets, I predicted that NAICU and APSCU would eventually have to embrace and enter into an uneasy alliance, especially after Virginia Foxx’s comments at the NAICU conference in DC a year ago. As I have written multiple times, there is little substantive difference between PIRS and GE. To do either or both (as USED would seem to prefer) effectively, requires IPEDS-UR (Unit Record) collection. NAICU opposes such on privacy grounds, although some question whether it is student privacy or institution privacy they are trying to protect. (While I have been writing this post, Robert Kelchen has written and posted his response here to Bernie Fryshman’s doom and gloom piece on unit records.)

As the two private sectors begin to sound more like each other, it feeds into the questions that some ask about why provide public money is funneled to these institutions in the first place. Especially in the absence of good measures of institutional effectiveness.

APSCU’s fight against GE includes pushing the notion that if GE is the right thing to do, then it should apply to all institutions and programs. NAICU opposes this position, of course. Thus the two associations can partner on insisting on freedom of choice in the use of public money (vouchers and loans) for higher education, while maintaining clear opposition on other issues. All of which seems to do little more than the confuse the perception of private higher education.

To me, it seems the choice argument is the only tool either NAICU or APSCU have that is widely accepted, so they attack all problems with it.

Eventually, IPEDS-UR will become a reality and we will have access to very discrete measures of student access, success, debt, and outcomes. At that point, some institutions will shut down, through market behavior or lack of access to public money. That’s not a bad thing. There is no institutional right to existence. For any institution, public or private.



Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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