by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a speech Monday American colleges need to be more “accountable” for how their students perform. The speech suggests an effort by the Obama administration in its waning days to expect more of colleges receiving student loans, and possibly punish those that aren’t measuring up.
“Government, at both the federal and state level, along with accreditors and Congress, need to flip the current incentives in higher education,” Duncan said in a speech at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “Today, only students, families and taxpayers lose when students don’t succeed– that makes no sense. Institutions must be held accountable when they get paid by students and taxpayers but fail to deliver a quality education.”
Duncan’s statement is largely accurate. Under current student loan policies, taxpayers and student borrowers assume virtually all risk. A student risks being unable to pay off the loans used to finance their education, while the government takes the hit if a borrower is unable to pay. Colleges, though, take almost no risk, and are largely not penalized if their students end up dropping out or prove unable to finance their debts.
Duncan says that needs to change, meaning colleges may have to pay the price (for example, by losing access to federal loans) if their students aren’t adequately succeeding.
“We must shift incentives at every level to focus on student success, not just access. When students win, everyone wins,” said Duncan. “When they lose every part of the system should share responsibility.”