Liking the NGA’s Tune on “Complete to Compete”

(This post also appears on Rick Hess Straight Up.)

Last week, National Governors Association Chair Joe Manchin (a Democrat from West Virginia) announced his “Complete to Compete” initiative, which will enlist “governors, higher education leaders, and other key groups in an effort to boost college completion and attainment rates with existing resources and without compromising the quality of our academic programs.”

I tend not to read too much into the endless strings of initiatives and programs launched by DC groups. And I don’t want to suggest anyone should read too much into this one. That said, I really like the tone of the release they sent and am modestly hopeful (perhaps foolishly so) that it reflects a more serious tenor brought about by pinched pocketbooks and an awareness that grand plans can backfire. (Though it turns out, upon closer inspection, that the release they sent to a couple dozen of us wonks–including Kevin Carey, Kati Haycock, Mike Cohen, Checker Finn, Anne Bryant, and so on–is noticeably more serious than the public release posted on the NGA website).

I especially like three things about the tune of the NGA’s release that showed up in my inbox. First was its clear and happy dearth of “it’s for the kids” moralizing. Yes, our educational situation is morally and economically problematic. So let’s stop wringing our hands and start dealing with it like adults. And that’s why I’m cheered by the talk of improving performance “with existing resources” and of taking care that plans for boosting completion rates do so “without compromising” quality.

Second, the release called for states to develop and adopt “consistent performance metrics” to gauge institutional success. It pointed to the common completion metrics that the NGA has developed and encouraged states to adopt them. All of this is good and valuable work that tends to receive less than its due. And, pleasingly, the release went out of its way to note that the NGA also will be developing new measures that focus on “colleges’ efficiency and effectiveness.”

Third, the NGA release went further and explicitly embraced the need for “state policies that provide stronger incentives for improving completion and efficiency.” The release specifically made note of ideas such as funding campuses on the basis of completion as well as enrollment, transforming remedial education to shave costs and boost results, and finding ways for students with credits but no degree to complete their degrees.

Auguries of a more serious era in education reform? A man can hope.

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