The Drive for Revenues and Rankings

February 18, 2005

Colleges have become "dramatically more market-oriented," and risk sacrificing important values to the quest for money, warns a report issued Thursday.

"Many academic leaders feel compelled to chase revenues and rankings rather than to focus their efforts on providing a high-quality education," says the report, "Correcting Course: How We Can Restore the Ideals of Public Higher Education in a Market-Driven Era," issued by the Futures Project, a higher education research group based at Brown University.

The report scolds colleges for spending money on things of limited educational value, while not investing enough money in teaching and in student aid for those from low-income families. "Institutions of all kinds of have splurged on state-of-the-art computer labs, luxury dormitories, and sparkling new gymnasiums to lure the best, brightest and most affluent students," the report says. "Financial aid packages are increasingly used as a competitive tool, designed to reduce the sticker price for students with high test scores and GPAs, rather than to ease the burden for those with financial need."

Government does not escape criticism either. The report blames many of the college behaviors on the "eroding commitment" of state government to higher education.

The report recommends that state governments:

  • Better define both the public and private benefits of higher education.
  • Create accountability systems for colleges that recognize the differences among different kinds of institutions.
  • Provide adequate funds.
  • Recognize "that higher education is not a business."

The report recommends that colleges:

  • Focus on teaching and learning, and measure how well they teach.
  • Move beyond a focus on access to higher education to examining what students gain from enrolling and graduating.
  • Help limit costs by addressing "problems of efficiency and productivity."
  • Rebuild political involvement in society by helping students understand their role as citizens.

The Futures Project, which has released a series of studies on higher education, will disband in March. The project's founder, Frank Newman, died last year.

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