Archive for July 23, 2010

Cynical view: How do we get more college graduates?

The United States used to lead the world in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. Now it ranks 12th among 36 developed nations.

“The growing education deficit is no less a threat to our nation’s long-term well-being than the current fiscal crisis,” Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, warned at a meeting on Capitol Hill of education leaders and policy makers, where he released a report detailing the problem and recommending how to fix it. “To improve our college completion rates, we must think ‘P-16’ and improve education from preschool through higher education.”

via Once a Leader, U.S. Lags in College Degrees – NYTimes.com.

I’m in a cynical mood this morning.  (It’s been a rough week.)

How can we get more people through college?  My base assumption is that public policy, like water and electricity, always takes the path of least resistance.

  • Option #1: As the College Board suggests, we can improve P-16. We do a massive overhaul of K-12 so that students come to college prepared and motivated.  Not only is that prohibitively expensive, but you’ll be spending most of your effort on improving education for the kids not going to college.  That’s not an effective application of money to improve this particular metric.
  • Option #2: Change college.  We can lower standards (most likely since it’s least expensive), or we can improve quality, engage students, and reward teaching as well as research.  While not requiring as broad a change as Option #1, it’s still quite expensive. College is expensive, and it’s not clear that we have enough seats in our colleges to get enough students in the system to budge those numbers that the NYTimes is complaining about.  And if we built more colleges, they would try to be research-focused (or at least, research-infused) which means less focus on teaching and more junior faculty being forced to churn out papers (even if nobody, not even the author, likes them) to make tenure.
  • Option #3: We create more on-line opportunities for higher-education.  They’re cheaper to offer, lower quality, and don’t require building more schools.  Nobody gets tenure for offering on-line courses.  Even fewer students will pass than in Option #2, but if we lower standards enough (and it’s just software!), we can make that happen,too.

Pretty obvious to me from this analysis which way public policy will likely go.

July 23, 2010 at 8:31 am 18 comments


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