Interesting thoughts on the role of the federal government in higher education and how this compares to K-12. Clearly, the federal government is getting more involved in higher education — from calls for higher attendance to greater accountability on completion and results. (Why should higher ed be any different from manufacturing, finance, health care, oil/mining, etc.??)
From Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
As David Cohen and Susan Moffitt’s important new book, The Ordeal of Equality (Harvard University Press), shows, the federal government has persistently raised the demands it places on K-12 schools and has over time moved its declared ambitions from providing funding for schools serving disadvantaged students to improving the quality, even of “transforming,” American education. As Cohen and Moffitt argue, this increased ambition has not been accompanied by similar increases in the capacity, either at the federal or at local levels, to meet these higher demands. The result has been frustration and policy failure, answered so far by further increases in ambition and in demands on a system that is not well-equipped to respond.
So far, at least, the federal role in higher education has not followed a similar trend. The basic goals of federal spending in support of higher education have been (1) to assist needy students in paying for whatever colleges are out there and (2) purchasing the services of university researchers to undertake studies the federal government thinks are worth doing. The feds largely treat postsecondary education institutions as vendors and treat themselves as clients, or perhaps as agents providing money to clients for them to purchase services.