Business Administration Education Guide

Monday, December 18, 2006

...and she's the Secretary of Education (link)

Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling’s stockpile speeches

One of Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling’s stockpile speeches was regarding why she appointed a commission to study what’s wrong with colleges and why it was time to change the accreditation system in addition to other changes to promote more accountability and document student learning, as the panel suggested. The Secretary’s claim, like many of the other things she has claimed, is specious.

The wording doesn’t change much from one speech to the next. From one of the many stockpile speeches:

Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling:

“The absence of information means we can’t answer basic questions families have during the college selection process,” Spellings said. “For example, how long will it take to get a degree? Will this institution prepare me for the field I want to work in? And how much is this education really going to cost? When my daughter applied to college two years ago, I found it challenging to get the answers I needed. And I’m the secretary of education!”

By reading that, you would think “darn it! That’s just not right! I’m angry too!”

Margaret Spelling frequently refers to her daughter’s college search when making these points, but is the information that difficult to get? No. Margaret Spelling’s daughter enrolled at Davidson College, a liberal arts institution in North Carolina. According to Davidson college, the top “overlap” colleges in applications to Davidson are Duke, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest Universities, and the Universities of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Virginia.

Any parent and interested college applicant can find out not only how long it would take a student to get a degree but how much college would cost. In addition, there’s a lot of information on whether or not college prepares students for careers. All of this information can be found in one place at the Education Department’s Web site.

So here is the information that apparently Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling could not find. College Opportunities Online Locator aka COOL (I love it!) With a few clicks on the Education Department’s Web site or a search, parents can find the COOL website and answers to most of Spellings’ questions.

Margaret Spelling could check out the “retention/graduation rates” section, and learn the year-to-year retention rates, the graduation rates after four, five and six years, and breakdowns by gender, race and ethnicity.

College Cost: Figures are provided for tuition, books, and room and board. The site will tell a parent what percentage of students at a college receive financial aid, the percentage receiving various kinds of grants and loans, and the average size of various grants and loans.

Degrees by major field are also provided, so a parent could see that at Davidson, students are much more likely to graduate with a degree in the social sciences or history than mathematics or the physical sciences. The site also includes information about default rates and it’s a good guess that Davidson’s new alumni, with only one borrower in default in the last three years, are either employed or in graduate school at very healthy rates.

All of the above data is totally comparable among institutions, so a parent can compare any of these things, with comparable data, courtesy of the Education Department.

According to anther article regarding these similar findings, Samara Yudof, a spokeswoman for Spellings, that the secretary stood by her contention that “more data is needed to help students and their families make more informed decisions about their futures.” Even though there is “some information” available on potential college costs and graduation rates for first-time, full-time traditional students, the spokeswoman said, “education is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise.”

That is in contradiction to Education Margaret Spelling’s speeches and assumptions. Never once have I read a speech where she takes the stance that students should be treated as an individual and not as a group of… well, students. Reading her speeches has always lead me to believe that she assumes that all students (if only racially) act and react the same way. In which her speeches seem to always lead to using he same type one solution fits all building block.

Is it fair for the Education Secretary to say that parents can’t find “basic” information about costs and graduation rates when much of that information is on the department’s Web site and much more is available with just a few further clicks?

Is it fair to call for major changes in higher education, citing the alleged lack of information about such things as costs and graduation rates, when a speedier way to share this information might be to, say, put a link on the Education Department’s home page?

Samara Yudof, a spokeswoman for Spellings went on to say that students should be able to compare public and private institutions, two-year and four-year institutions, and in-state vs. out of state. In fact, the Education Department’s Web site does include data for two-year and four-year institutions, and for public institutions, it provides both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates.

In addition, Samara Yudof was quick to add that information on what causes tuition increases could not be found. “As the secretary has noted, her daughter’s college costs went up this year ... for what?” Yudof said. “And, this is not unique to her. As you know, for most families, this is one of the most expensive investments they make — yet there is little to no information on why costs are so high and what they’re getting in return.”

Why doesn’t Secretary Spellings know what is available? Perhaps she doesn’t want to, since it doesn’t support her contention. It’s her job to know such things.

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