Areas of Reform in Texas Higher Ed
Texas has been one of higher education’s innovation hothouses in recent years, implementing such concepts at the state university level as full transparency for professors—including public online posting of syllabi, CVs, and student evaluations—$10,000 bachelors’ degrees, and more. The Texas Public Policy Foundation has played a large part in this spirit of innovation. In December of 2012, this same Foundation’s Center for Higher Education released this report that laid out his intended areas of focus. It is written by Thomas K. Lindsay as the primary author, with contributions from Richard Vedder, Richard Bishirjian, and Harry Stille. The report is a convincing analysis of higher education’s problems and takes advantage of the growing body of evidence produced by higher education reform think tanks to make a case for higher standards and greater efficiency.
One of the areas of concern focuses on finding meaningful outcome measures. Many state university systems have fallen in love with the idea of “performance-based funding”; however, they choose quantitative criteria to be judged on, such as graduation and retention rates or the number of degrees produced. Such funding models can cause all kinds of mischief, and Lindsay correctly suggests that “to date, what interest there has been in funding outcomes, rather than merely funding enrollment, has focused primarily on increasing graduation rates. To do so to the exclusion of learning outcomes is wrong-headed, as it only incentivizes the dilution of standards.”
Among other things, the report calls for instituting true reforms that tie university funding to student success results, such as the number of degrees issued and learning outcomes. Simultaneously, the report encourages university regents to institute measurements of learning outcomes at the freshman and senior years in order to gauge more accurately whether and how much students increase in learning during their four years at Texas public colleges and universities.