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Time Magazine Cover Article on Higher Education Features EPI’s Swail

Jon Meacham’s article refers to issues of CLA+ and Swail’s criticism thereof

WASHINGTON, DC — October 15, 2013 — Last month, Time Magazine’s Pulitzer Prize winning author Jon Meacham wrote about the future of higher education in America. The cover piece, “What Colleges Will Teach in 2025,” asks about how much students learn and how effective college is in preparing youth for the workforce.


Meacham’s article references the recent rollout of the CLA+, a higher education instrument originally designed to test “value added” academic gains in higher education. However, the non-profit Council for Aid to Education (CAE) now sells the test to institutions and corporations to test the efficacy of student learning. The Educational Policy Institute’s President and Senior Scholar Dr. Watson Scott Swail has written previously on the CLA (See “Measuring Learning” from November 18, 2011), and was recently interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio on the issue. Prior to the publication of Time’s article, Time magazine spoke extensively with Dr. Swail about the CLA+.


The discussion is focused on whether students will need to post their CLA+ score on resumes for employers. Some employers say they want an additional indicator of how students “rate” after completion of a bachelor’s degree. Swail disagrees for several reasons, including his point articulated in the Time Magazine article:


“The idea of the CLA+ is to measure learning at various institutions and compare them. I don’t think that’s technically possible with such a diverse system of higher education. That’s based on the fact that all the curriculums are different, textbooks are different, and you’re expecting to get some measure of—in a very generic way across all ­curriculums—how someone learns in one institution compared to another. All institutions are different, and all of their students are different.”


On Minnesota Public Radio on September 16, 2013, Swail was more direct:


"Without one person taking the test, I can tell you exactly what's going to happen. The people who have come from more affluent backgrounds are going to get toward 1600, and people with less, with college degrees, will get less. That's what will happen… I don't see the utility of this. It's putting another barrier between the student and the workforce."

Swail suggests that a “voluntary test could soon become compulsory. "If some employers start asking for it, people are going to start to feel that they have to have it on their resume, becoming a required element that further serves as a filter for the workforce.


During the MPR program, a caller dialed in and offered her viewpoint on the issue: "There are three things I'm looking for when I hire: Attitude, work ethic and thought processes, or critical-thinking skills. And none of those things can be taught."


Dr. Swail adds: “I agree that we need to understand what a degree means and what it showcases. But the best way to do that is not a test, but some form of competency-based education system. That will provide us with much more detailed information about what a graduate knows or does not know, rather than a singular, four-digit number.”


To read the Time Magazine article, CLICK HERE.


To read the summary of or listen to the MPR interview, CLICK HERE.




Educational Policy Institute is a Washington, DC-based research corporation focusing on high-level research and analysis to support the expansion of educational opportunity in K-12, postsecondary education, and the workforce. For more information, please visit