I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around higher ed.

Each week I share my latest thinking on the people and ideas reshaping the sector, alternating between my own reporting and my picks for thought-provoking and useful stories and resources out there. I also mix in some quick takes and occasional contributions from my colleagues.

This week I’m taking some time off, hence a shorter-than-usual newsletter. But below I highlight some ideas readers shared with me for new ways to track accountability for colleges.

How (else) to keep colleges accountable.

The pause on repaying federal student loans, as I reported two weeks ago, has skewed one of the few universal accountability metrics the government has. To be honest, that measure, the cohort default rate, has never been that useful anyway. So now seems like a good time to discuss what might work better.

I asked for your ideas and saw particular promise in two responses: one that calls for more transparency from colleges about costs, the other a reminder of the merits of keeping colleges on the hook for some of the money their students borrow.

The transparency idea came from Jeff Arthur, vice president for regulatory affairs and chief information officer at the for-profit ECPI University. The government’s approach to protecting students and ensuring educational quality “should be about leveraging emerging data to create a framework that will drive competitive institutions to improve,” he wrote in an email. “Accountability no longer needs to be institutional,” he said. It can also be monitored program by program.

The U.S. Department of Education already administers regulations that require all colleges to disclose a ton of information about their programs. Tweak those rules, Arthur says, to make colleges also disclose how long students took to complete the programs and the total cost associated with that time. And while they’re at it, he argues, colleges should share students’ median debt levels and postgraduate salaries by program. “It is not a stretch,” he said, “to produce this information.”

As it so happens, the Education Department is weighing changes to those disclosure requirements right now. But Arthur thinks the proposals will fall short of what’s possible and useful, in part because of objections from colleges.

I’m sympathetic to one potential objection: that some undergraduate programs that aren’t directly career-related probably shouldn’t be judged by earnings outcomes. But what I like about Arthur’s idea is that it reflects more of the reality for today’s students, many of whom don’t complete their degrees in four years. Meaning, the costs colleges disclose aren’t always representative. Arthur’s approach could help rectify that.

That said, I know: So-called transparency and disclosure aren’t the same as actually holding institutions responsible for outcomes. That’s why I also appreciated the colleges’ having “skin -in the game” suggestion from Perry S. Akins, chairman of iTEP International, a testing company. Since colleges “profit” from the money students borrow, he said, they should also bear some responsibility for that debt. That ideagets batted around a lot in policy circles.

Maybe its time has come.

Meanwhile, I’ll be back in your inboxes with more next week.

Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at goldie@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.

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