Part 4: Create a National College Equivalency Test Similar to the GED.
[Explanatory lead to the first post in this series: Richard Vedder is distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In an earlier post, I pointed out, as others have, that he is hardly an unbiased or objective commentator on the state of higher education because his connection to the conservative American Enterprise Institute has come with a $150,000 annual stipend.
Nonetheless, as the author of Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much, he was asked by CNN to comment on President Obama’s recent proposals on higher education (The article is available at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/23/opinion/vedder-college-costs). Vedder took the opportunity to restate four of his own recommendations for making higher education more affordable.]
At the close of this article, Vedder proposes the following: “A good national test of basic reading, writing, mathematical and general knowledge about our institutions and society could be administered by, say, the Scholastic Testing Service, or ACT. High scores on the test would lead to a ‘college equivalence certificate.’”
I confess that I don’t know what the point of such a test might be. The only explanation that Vedder offers for why such an examination might be needed or how it might be useful is the following: “Most students want a diploma as a ticket to a good job. Employers could use scores on the equivalency test as an alternative certification device, and individuals could take the test anytime–even home schooled kids with little formal education.”
But, as least as Vedder has described it here, what such an examination would be measuring would be no more than the material covered in, at most, some of the core or general-education courses at most universities.
So this is either, in essence, a crackpot idea, or it is an open-ended proposition meant mainly to reinforce the idea that students can demonstrate competencies in lieu of completing credit hours, even to the point of testing out of an entire degree.
The reference to the “home schooled kids with little formal education” suggests either that people who have been educated by their parents can, I suppose, now educate themselves in a manner at least broadly equivalent to how they would be educated at a university or that it is okay to extend a deficient education to the post-secondary level. Even if—or, perhaps, especially if–such a certification is understood to be a lesser credential than a degree, it would seem to serve no purpose unless the assumption is that a deficient post-secondary education is perfectly sufficient for a certain percentage of the population. Beyond that’s being a not very egalitarian position to take, I don’t see how it provides any improvement over what is now available—how it increases access and affordability while maintaining or even increasing standards. Instead, it seems, in effect, tantamount to throwing in the towel. If students can’t complete a degree, give them a test and see if they can at least pass that.
Indeed, the proposal is tossed off so casually that it is not even clear whether such an examination and certification would be intended primarily for students who have enrolled in a college or university but not completed a degree, which would make it more closely the equivalent of a GED, or for students who have never attended a college or university, which would make it something else entirely. I believe that most people intending to take the examination for their GED typically take review classes to prepare for it. So, perhaps, this proposal is a way for building another possible target population for MOOCs or some other gimmick being developed by the for-profit “educational providers.”
I suspect that if Vedder were to read this post, he might be tempted to complain that I have given much too much space to speculating about an idea that does not warrant such attention. My response to that complaint would be that it doesn’t seem appropriate to argue that President Obama’s proposals for higher education are poorly conceived and then to offer, instead, alternatives that are either half-articulated or half-baked.
Part 1 of this series is available at: http://academeblog.org/2013/09/03/a-critique-of-richard-vedders-recommendations-for-higher-education-made-in-response-to-president-obamas-recent-proposals/