Last month, The Center for American Progress, an organization TIME Magazine recently dubbed “Obama’s idea factory,” released a paper on higher education entitled “Putting the Customer First in College.”

The report calls on the U.S. Department of Education to create an Office of Consumer Protection in Higher Education that would pressure colleges to produce significantly better data on how well they serve students, develop a system for making that data available for students to use in choosing a college, and direct students unhappy with their college’s educational practices to federal, state, or accrediting officials who can help them resolve their complaints.

A new bureaucracy isn’t needed to accomplish these goals – and may actually make things worse – so I disagree with their proposed means to achieve improved higher education accountability. But despite this disagreement, it seems both sides of the philosophical spectrum agree that the lack of accountability in higher education is a problem in need of addressing. It is also incredibly promising that the Center for American Progress referred to students as university “customers.”

The author of the paper states that “In most sectors of our economy, customer focus is paramount, as it should be in education, too. Customer focus could yield a more student-centric system through the development and dissemination of user-friendly ‘truth-in-education’ information that helps students make ‘best-fit’ choices regarding which education provider to select based on customer preferences such as: academic quality, price, convenience, learning style, beginning education level and the anticipated return on their investment in education.”

The first step is always admitting there is a problem. Now our elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, should come together to reach a solution. Improving university accountability will empower students, improve educational quality, and allow taxpayers to better track the results their tax dollars yield.

– Elizabeth Young