State colleges and universities leery of federal intervention

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: February 13, 2012

FEW would argue that the cost of a college education is not spiraling out of control. The Pew Research Center recently reported that a majority of Americans (57 percent) say our higher education system fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend. An even larger majority — 75 percent — say college is too expensive. Graduates are struggling with a mountain of student debt that has grown fivefold in more than a decade.

However, it's understandable that Oklahoma higher education officials are concerned about the Obama administration's plan to rein in increases in tuition and fees by penalizing schools that fail to contain costs.

Our preference is that cost control be handled on the state level. Look back at the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 for an example of how the federal government can botch education reform.

“It was an example of federal overreach,” OSU Provost Robert Sternberg told The Oklahoman's Silas Allen. “It had many negative effects.”

Sternberg said that initiative places too heavy an emphasis on how well students perform on standardized tests. Those tests don't account for a range of factors, like creativity, ethical reasoning, practical thinking and teamwork.

Although Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the administration is still working out details of the college proposal, he said the decision about which universities are penalized and which are rewarded would be based on a number of factors, including net price, trends in graduation rates, efforts to serve economically disadvantaged Pell Grant students and whether the university balances access with retention rates.

Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson said it's unfair to lump Oklahoma in the same category of states that have seen a steady diet of double-digit increases in tuition and fees. Despite tuition hikes over the past four years, the state has managed to keep its tuition rates among the lowest in the country.

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