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House Bill 9

House Bill 9 is on the Calendar for tomorrow, Thursday, March 11, 2011 and the Texas Faculty Association has serious reservations regarding this bill.

The concerns of the Texas Faculty Association about changing higher education funding from enrollment-based to being based on graduation rate are straightforward. No matter how a graduation- rate formula is weighted or what allowances are made for special conditions, it will be the case that in order to survive, an institution must increase its graduation rate by any means necessary.

There are only two realistic means of consistently increasing graduation rate. One is by limiting enrollment to students who are likely to graduate. This may be less harmful if the negative effects on institutions wishing to maintain accessibility can be offset by formula provisions supporting admission of high-risk students.

The other means of increasing graduation rates, however, and the one of most concern to many faculty, is forcing faculty to lower standards and course requirements. The fear is that having a degree from a Texas public college or university will become worth far less than it is today.

We have heard only two common responses to this second concern. One is that faculty must have the professional resolve to not compromise their standards, whatever the cost. We consider this admonition to be unrealistic in an era of loose-cannon accountability in which questioning any administrative initiative is equated with incompetence.

The other response is that data-based assessment of programs will prevent their being diluted to maintain graduation rate. We consider this to be based on a completely naive and unrealistic view of assessment technology. Assessment of programs is often based on tests whose content is simply declared to contain all of the important content to be imparted by a program, without ever evaluating the test itself to determine if it predicts performance in some real-world domain. If the test is arbitrary so is the assessment, and offers little protection of program quality.

For example, my program may have as its goal creation of an educated citizenry capable of informed decisions. Since this is hard to measure, I may substitute being able to name all of the committees in the U.S, House of Representatives, claiming that any knowledgeable citizen would know this. However, unless I can show that this knowledge really has something to do with informed decision-making my test is useless. Creation of assessment criteria that are themselves never assessed has become rampant as demand for accountability has increased.

The argument that funding can be set by graduation rate without diluting program quality is, we believe, based on unfounded assumptions at best. We should no more adopt such a process without evidence of safety and effectiveness than we would approve a dangerous drug.

Please reply to:

Mary Aldridge Dean
Executive Director
Texas Faculty Association
316 W. 12th St., Austin, TX 78701

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