Who protects the public interest? That is the question. In today’s Federal Register, the Department of Education asked “interested parties” for nominations to NACIQI, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity. Overseeing billions in federal student aid, NACIQI is not a household word. Mom and Dad pay the taxes that fund those billions—but they don’t know about NACIQI, they wouldn’t consider themselves “interested parties,” and they wouldn’t likely qualify for NACIQI membership. Yet they care about educational quality. They assume federal oversight is open-minded and independent. They expect their hard-earned tax dollars to support the public interest, not special interests.
If only they knew. Since it was established, NACIQI has been filled with “interested” parties who are often themselves “regulated” by accreditors and who are more attuned to politics than accountability. The state of affairs is assured by the powerful education lobby, which spent over $100 million last year to defend its interests.
It’s time that changed. Going forward, I hope for nominees knowledgeable about higher education—but not beholden to it. Nominees who will bring independence of mind and a focus on educational quality and public accountability. In short, it’s time for disinterested nominees. In the corporate world, conflict of interest is taken seriously. We expect to see independent auditors. Alumni, trustees, and taxpayers should expect no less from higher ed.