How Universities Devalued Higher Education

Ann McClure's picture
Wednesday, February 20, 2013

An illuminating controversy erupted recently over a higher-education statistic I employed in a recent op-ed in the Austin-American Statesman. In the piece, I argued that we need strong medicine to mend ailing student-learning outcomes. To accomplish this, I argued, the Texas legislature should enact two bills. The first would require all Texas public colleges and universities to follow and expand on the example of the University of Texas System, which for eight years has been administering the Collegiate Learning Assessment to a statistically significant sample of its undergraduate students — this with the view to measuring “academic value-added,” that is, to measure how much students increased in fundamental academic skills (critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills) as the result of spending four years in college.

It was my second recommendation that sparked doubts. I argued that, “to increase transparency and accountability further, the Legislature should require all universities to include on transcripts not only the grade the student received for each class, but also the overall average grade for the class. This would tell prospective employers whether or not a given student’s high grade-point average was the product of exceptional work or of enrolling in what today’s students call ‘Mick’ (for ‘Mickey Mouse’) courses.”

We need such legislation, I wrote, because studies reveal that the time students spend studying has declined in the last 50 years from 24 to 14 hours a week. “Worse, grades during this period have, paradoxically, increased. Approximately 43 percent of all college grades today are A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960. Inflated grades only serve to diminish the value of a college degree.”

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