The United Nations has included higher education as relevant to its new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this Items essay, Joan Dassin considers the role that scholarships for underrepresented citizens of developing countries can play in deepening the ways in which universities contribute to the public good. Drawing on the example of the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program (IFP), Dassin argues for both rigorous modes of evaluating the impact of scholarship programs and for an expansive notion of impact that extends beyond technical training and narrow economic goals and addresses inequalities within and across countries.
In this contribution to the "What Is Inequality?" series, Kevin Leicht argues strongly that, given the nature and extent of economic inequality in the United States today, scholars and policymakers should address it directly rather than emphasize its social and educational dimensions. Leicht claims that research and public discourse on gaps between identity groups, and on the importance of education for social mobility, distracts attention from the deepening economic differentiation within groups and the need to address broader issues of labor market outcomes and wages.
In his response to Kenneth Prewitt’s “Can Social Science Matter?” Michael Feuer discusses rationales for accountability systems for social science and problems of implementing them, especially through the use of (sometimes dubious) metrics in a highly-politicized climate for science funding. Improved accountability for science requires, according to Feuer, a scientific approach to the study of accountability.
Wolfgang Rohe’s response to Prewitt’s “Can Social Science Matter?” affirms that the current moment for social science research is one in which society demands less autonomy and more accountability for knowledge production. Rohe concurs with Prewitt’s account of how this shift happened, and adds that the sheer scale of the research enterprise, and genuine concerns with research quality, are further components of new pressures on scholarship. Rohe concludes that social scientists must both maintain (and improve upon) the process for peer judgments of quality while using their tools as social scientists to develop criteria for evaluating the broader social influence and use of their research.
Thomas Schwandt takes up Kenneth Prewitt’s framework of narratives, metrics, and use for addressing accountability issues for the social sciences. Schwandt argues that accountability needs to be imagined within a “dialogical space” that joins social scientists with policymakers, funders, and the public in an exchange about the values and purposes of research, rather than a one-way flow of communication from knowledge producer to user.
The SSRC’s Measuring College Learning (MCL) project has concluded its first phase in developing faculty-derived learning outcomes for a diverse set of undergraduate majors. In this essay, Richard Arum and Eleanor Blair discuss the intention and scope of the project, as well as detailing how they arrived at the result of their work, Improving Quality in American Higher Education. Faculty panels convened across six disciplines found, despite their diversity, that learning in majors should cohere principally around concepts and competencies, rather than content knowledge in and of itself.
Kenneth Prewitt, former SSRC president, traces the history of the debates on the accountability of American social science to those who fund and use it. As demands for accountability are currently on the rise, and as expectations for its demonstration grow, Prewitt outlines key dimensions of a strategy for maintaining the autonomy of social science research and using the insights of social science to better understand its own impact.