Thursday, April 12, 2007

Actually they are

"This increasing interest in measuring everything – these so-called science-based measures of [educational] outcomes and the like – seems to me to be so misguided that it's now captured the imagination of the leadership in higher education," says Christopher Nelson, president of St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., who heads an association of 124 prestigious liberal arts schools. "This is a bad way of talking about an education. [Students] aren't consumers shopping for a product."
(Emphasis mine.)

Every year the Kabuki is reenacted (or is it Commedia del arte?) as the US News and World Report prepares its annual rankings of the nation's colleges and universities. There are many reasons to despise the ranking, and there is an effort brewing to organize a boycott of the US News and World Report's effort.

But this is where educators like Nelson miss the boat: education is a commodity, and it always has been. It is one thing to try to promote the humanistic cultural ideals that can make a university (or college) a great place... but it is another to bury one's head in the sand and ignore the fundamental reality that shapes the decision making process: people don't go to college to learn, they go to gain entry into the middle class.

If you don't like the way in which the US News and World Report does its rankings, perhaps the colleges in question could come up with a better way in which to do the same thing.

I would suggest having a results-oriented approach: poll graduates 5-years, 10-years, and 20-years after graduation and look at their fields, salaries, life-style satisfaction, and degree of educational advancement. These factors are quantifiable and, furthermore, provide a better measure of outcome than SAT scores and reputation stats.

[As an aside: I decided to go to where I knew I would have a full scholarship, but in many ways I wish I had applied to St. John's, since I found their educational approach so appealing.]