I had to step away for a few days, so I’ve enjoyed getting caught up on this.
One very interesting thing is the almost-agreement in a number of posts with something I posited upthread: Rigor (at the level of the college, not the subject) is more of an issue of perception than reality, and that perception is based on inputs rather than on the actual expectations of student achievement in courses.
I say almost-agreement because I don’t know that those who focused on inputs would agree with me that it’s all perception rather than reality. But let’s conduct a thought experiment: Let’s say that Highly Selective University has pulled in students who are on average (and let’s pretend that you can quantify things this way as a thought exercise) at the 98th percentile of college students for intellectual capacity, while Open Access University brings in a student population at the 30th percentile, there’s a tendency to conclude that HSU must be much, much more rigorous than OAU. (Because of course a college would teach to the level of its students, right?)
However: I would suggest that there are no grounds to draw such a conclusion. After all, it’s pretty certain that OAU has a dramatically lower completion rate than HSU—and looking at that datapoint would lead to the conclusion, based on nothing else, that OAU must be more rigorous, right? (It would, sure, but the grounds for the conclusion would be just as flawed.)
After all, colleges aren’t in the business of acting as diploma mills—they are, at core, gatekeepers for licensing people as being educated to a particular level. I would suggest that all colleges are educating to that level (and thus with equivalent rigor), they’re just doing so for different target populations.
Of course, I can’t prove that any more than those who disagree with me can prove their side, so I don’t know that this has really moved us forward. But it’s an interesting thing to think about either way.