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Eight ways to get higher education into shape

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's not "broken," so you could argue that it doesn't need to be "fixed."

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The fact is, America's higher education system is still widely regarded as the best in the world. And that reputation certainly fits the nation's top research universities and liberal arts colleges, those with swelling endowments and shrinking admission rates.

But this vaunted reputation -- which draws students from all over the globe -- also masks what can only be described as some major flaws: spiraling tuition and fees. Yawning "graduation gaps" between students of different racial and ethnic categories. And nagging questions about how much today's college students actually learn.

We take a look at eight big problems facing the academy and, aided by some of its greatest minds, offer up some big ideas to help solve them.

So, while it may not be broken, why not perfect it?

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1. Measure student learning | 2. End merit aid | 3. Three-year degrees | 4. Core curriculum | 5. More homework | 6. Encourage completion | 7. Cap athletic subsidies | 8. Rethink remediation | Which idea is best? Vote now.

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1. Measure how much students learn at every college

A mere decade ago, few colleges had any objective means to measure how much their students learned between enrollment and graduation.

American higher education rested on its laurels, secure in its reputation as the best in the world, a credential based largely on the achievement of a few hundred national universities and selective liberal arts schools.

Slowly but surely, the accountability movement, along with rising concern that we're no longer the best, have breached the ivory tower.


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