Published Online: November 3, 1999
Published in Print: November 3, 1999, as Colleges

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Higher Ed. Wins

The American public is quick to condemn the K-12 schools, yet expresses confidence that colleges and universities are doing a good job educating students, a recent report found.

Precollegiate schools are unsafe and unable to impart basic academic skills, according to survey responses in "Doing Comparatively Well: Why the Public Loves Higher Education and Criticizes K-12.'' Released last month by the Institute for Educational Leadership, based in Washington, and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, located in San Jose, Calif., the report analyzed data collected by several groups over five years.

However, the study found that many respondents consider U.S. colleges and universities to be world-class.

Such perceptions are shaped by the public's exposure to K-12 schools and their relatively limited knowledge of what goes on in higher education, said Michael D. Usdan, the president of the IEL.

The public schools "have become the most meaningful form of local government, and that interest breeds critics," Mr. Usdan said.

The public understands that K-12 schools are funded by tax dollars, but perceives colleges to be driven by tuition, when in fact taxpayers also contribute significantly to higher education, the report noted.

Schools and teachers get the blame for precollegiate problems. Some 75 percent of those polled said all students could succeed if their schools helped. By contrast, many said college students were responsible for their own success and some 90 percent said doing well depends on motivation.

The poll respondents saw schools as unsafe, but viewed college campuses as free of discipline and safety problems, the study found. For example, reports of violence in K-12 schools terrify many, while binge drinking on college campuses is viewed as a rite of passage.

But the respondents did sling arrows at higher education for the perceived difficulty of access to and affordability of college.

The corporate world is more critical of higher education. In fact, the business respondents perceive colleges and universities as "bureaucratic and unresponsive to change."

The report, "Doing Comparatively Well: Why the Public Loves Higher Education and Criticizes K-12," is available for $15 from the Institute for Educational Leadership by calling (202) 822-8405, or by writing to Publications Department, IEL, 1001 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Suite 310, Washington, DC 20036

--Julie Blair

Vol. 19, Issue 10, Page 8

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