Keeping Stanford (and all colleges) Accountable

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Paying $200 a class period to check your email?
Thomas Toch has an interesting [piece]( in the recent issue of the The Atlantic Monthly’s special “[15 Ways to Fix the World](”

Toch argues that colleges aren’t held accountable for what matters most: learning. He argues that far too much weight is given to superficial factors like prestige and wealth and not enough to how much students actually learn from their four or five or six years. Many universities have also moved away from teaching toward research, helping raise tuition costs.

Tuition has been skyrocketing for years, with little evidence that education has improved. Universities typically favor research and publishing over teaching.

Students at a school like Stanford often shill out more than $100,000 over four years for an undergraduate education/experience; are we really paying for a superior education compared to cheaper, less prestigious schools?

All obvious or intuitive observations aside (famous professors, better physical resources, etc.), the question is difficult to answer. There are few rigorous, public means to compare university curriculums and educational quality. The NSSE comes the closest:

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) obtains, on an annual basis, information from hundreds of four-year colleges and universities nationwide about student participation in programs and activities that institutions provide for their learning and personal development. The results provide an estimate of how undergraduates spend their time and what they gain from attending college.

But the NSSE does not report its findings publicly. It does not empower consumers (students) but instead is an internal system from universities to compare notes.

Still the question lingers: is an Stanford or Harvard or Cornell undergraduate education worth the money?

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