College Cost Central: A Resource for Parents, Students, & Taxpayers Fed Up With the High Cost of Higher Education

America’s higher education system is facing a crisis. Decades of dramatically increasing costs, in both good economic times and bad, are threatening to push the dream of college out of reach for millions of students and families. —College Cost Central: A Resource for Parents, Students, & Taxpayers Fed Up With the High Cost of Higher Education  (U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce)

Boy, these guv’ment folks like long titles.

The key to understanding this flashy website is in the long subtitle — it is not a fair and balanced resource, it is only for those who want to cut government spending on colleges. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Stanley Fish illustrates the persuasive, rather than informative, purpose of this site:

Only three of the questions are real; that is, only three of the questions are framed with the objective of finding out something the researchers don’t already know or think they know. The others are designed to elicit — no coerce — responses that can then be used to support the conclusions that McKeon and Boehner have reached in advance of doing any research at all.

Here, for example, is the first question: “Can colleges and universities be doing more to control their spending and avoid large tuition hikes that hurt parents and students?” Although this has the form of a question, its core content is four unsubstantiated assertions: colleges and universities do not control their spending; uncontrolled spending is the sole cause of tuition hikes; those hikes are large (in relation to what norms or practices is never specified); and they hurt parents and students.

The real question then is, “Do you think that colleges and universities should stop doing these horrible things?” and of course anyone who understands it that way (and what other way is there to understand it?) will answer “yes” and thus provide Boehner and McKeon with one more piece of “evidence” with which to convict higher education of multiple offenses.

I’m going to have to save this example for the next time I teach about critiquing academic resources.