UC Opts Out of National College Info Database

    In an effort to increase accountability in higher education,
    the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges unveiled
    College Portrait, a new tool for prospective students and their families to
    compare universities. The University of California will not be among the
    program’s participants, however, due to concerns regarding the validity of its
    standardized testing requirement.

    Launched on Nov. 11, the program’s goal is to provide
    comprehensive online information about universities in order to assist students
    in the college selection process.

    Although such information already existed on university Web
    sites, College Portrait offers two distinct features: a new method of reporting
    graduation and retention rates and the administration of a standardized test to
    a select number of students.

    Developers hope that these two elements will serve as
    vehicles by which institutions of higher education will become more accountable
    for their students’ learning and progress.

    College Portrait’s structure consists of three sections:
    student and family information, student experiences and perceptions and student
    learning and outcomes.

    The most controversial category within College Portrait is
    the student learning and outcomes portion, which requires universities to
    administer a standardized test to 100 freshmen and seniors.

    The two-part testing requirement provides data from state
    licensure examinations and other program assessments, which will show
    prospective students’ passage rates for these exams and measure students’
    cognitive skills through one of three standardized tests.

    The exam would be administered during their freshman and
    senior years, in order to measure students’ critical thinking skills and track
    their learning gains.

    In an attempt to combat concerns over the testing, the
    developers intend to allow colleges a four-year period to develop the best
    testing requirement for their institution. In this time period, participating
    colleges and universities may choose to not reveal their test results.

    Despite these efforts, the testing component remains highly
    contentious. The UC system has been especially concerned, with UC President
    Robert C. Dynes expressing his qualms about the required standardized testing
    in a letter to the organizers of College Portrait.

    “[The testing] fails to recognize the diversity, breadth and
    depth of discipline-specific knowledge and learning that takes place in the
    colleges and universities today,” Dynes said.

    Dynes also said the testing requirement would undermine the
    role of the faculty and campus in evaluating student learning.

    In turn, the nine undergraduate universities within the UC
    system refused to participate in the College Portrait project. However, Dynes
    said the university plans to consider adopting some aspects of College
    Portrait, such as including data about graduation and retention rates and
    information about graduate programs.

    College Portrait’s second component, the student and family
    information section, includes standard statistical and demographic information,
    as well as an application called the College Cost Calculator.

    The application asks prospective students basic questions
    about their family’s income, the number of their siblings attending college and
    other factors that will help pinpoint the amount of aid for which they qualify.
    Based on such information, the system will estimate the cost of attending a
    particular university.

    Additionally, this portion of College Portrait also includes
    the Student Success and Progress Rate feature, which aims to provide an
    alternative process to the current federal graduation rate, according to data
    from the National Student Clearinghouse.

    The UC system has already launched an interactive Web tool
    called StatFinder that allows students to search through a variety of
    admissions data. By mid-2008, StatFinder will provide prospective students with
    graduation and retention rates, along with statistics on the performance of
    enrolled students.

    Like College Portrait, StatFinder’s goal is to increase the
    transparency and accountability of higher education institutions, according to a
    UC Office of the President press release.

    The UC system’s refusal to join the College Portrait
    database, however, has not hindered its popularity among other colleges. Since
    the program’s unveiling, the 23-campus Cal State system, 16-campus University of
    North Carolina system, 9-campus University of Texas system, and 13-campus
    University of Wisconsin system — along with the University of Iowa and the
    University of Tennessee — have all expressed their intent to participate in the
    project.

    David Edelson, NASULGC associate director of public affairs,
    said the UC system’s absence from College Portrait is not integral to the
    project’s success.

    “There is enough participation that it will not affect the
    national goals of the project,” he said.

    Edelson said colleges and universities would likely adopt a
    system similar to that of College Portrait.

    Currently, the program is awaiting approval by the American
    Association of Colleges and Universities, which will meet sometime this week.
    If the project is approved, institutions will be able to officially sign up to
    participate.

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