Arne Duncan: It will not be easy to hold colleges accountable

Few improvements on issue have been made in past decade

Many roadblocks lie between holding colleges accountable for student success—given the government's current capabilities, Nick Anderson writes for the Washington Post.

At a panel discussion on Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan emphasized the need to graduate students on time and to hold institutions responsible for getting them there. The speech came as Congress prepares to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Duncan criticized accreditors for setting their standards too low, echoing comments from senators at a recent meeting of the committee that oversees higher education. He also promised a federal partnership with states, colleges, and accreditors to hold schools accountable and protect students and taxpayers.

However, Duncan acknowledged that these goals are easier said than done.

In the past 10 years, little has been achieved to increase accountability mechanisms, he said. Congress handed accreditors the task of ensuring education quality and barred the federal government from creating criteria to assess student achievement.

Meanwhile, 11 schools that graduated less than 10% of their students within six years kept their accreditation, he said, referencing a Wall Street Journal investigation.

The Obama administration's "gainful employment" rules took aim at the for-profit sector and tightened regulations, but more remains to be done, he says. And Congress has pushed back on additional oversight, citing the burden and cost of additional regulations.

The panel comes one month after the White House announced it is scaling back its own college ratings accountability measure—although Duncan stressed the new iteration of the plan, to provide consumers with tools to rate schools themselves, still increases the amount of information available.

"Greater transparency will absolutely drive accountability as well as competition," he said in a conference call with reporters.

Other higher education figures at the panel also called for more accountability. University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski III stressed the need for a better way to measure graduation rates that includes part-time and transfer students (Anderson, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 7/28).

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