The U.S. Department of Education and Higher Education: An Assessment after 35 Years

In fairness to the Department of Education, a lot of what ails higher education is not directly a result of departmental incompetence or neglect. In the absence of the department or the governmental programs which it oversees (notably financial aid initiatives), some of the problems, such as mediocre learning outcomes, may have happened anyway. Yet the department’s job is to improve education in the U.S. The evidence is that it has not done that. There are other pathologies not discussed here – stagnant collegiate labor productivity, inadequate pursuit of technological advances in teaching, the excesses of big-time intercollegiate athletics, et cetera. The assessment here is far from comprehensive. All that said, it is hard to give the Department of Education a good grade on its lifetime performance. I ask myself, would the American people in general been better off, and would American higher education be improved, if the very strong opposition to the Department’s creation had prevailed in 1979? I suspect the answer is “yes.” Although it is unfashionable to do so in this era of grade inflation, I think I have to give the Department a failing grade.

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