How does higher education funding relate to teaching quality?

July 31, 2012 at 8:43 am 3 comments

We’re in the final week of the Computational Freakonomics course at Oxford, and students are looking for data.  Several of my students are diving into the Guardian’s impressive open data journalism site.  Helping them look around, I found this interesting article relating funding to teaching quality.  The findings are all for UK institutions (comparable to US?  Similar issues?).  The “teaching scores” are not course-specific, but at the end of the three year undergraduate degree, what did the graduates think of the teaching at the institution?  I wonder if the influences are the same as on other course surveys.  The graph below was one of the most interesting: Higher funding was related to better teaching and student-to-staff ratios.

In the chart below, we seed how teaching scores relate to the expenditure per student and the student staff ratio and how expenditure per student and student staff ratio relate to each other:

via Does Funding Equal Happiness in Higher Education? « OUseful.Info, the blog….

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  August 1, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I see a correlation, but can’t conclude causation (not that I’m accusing you of doing so—I see your language as being more careful than that).

    If I understand you correctly, “teaching score” is a measure of student happiness, not of whether they learned anything. (The two may or may not be correlated.)

    It seems just as likely to me that students liked high-prestige schools better than low-prestige ones, independent of what teaching or learning actually happened. Was there any correlation between funding and some measure of student accomplishment?

    Also, only those who finished were included in the data—would including those who failed or quit change the picture? And would they make the effect size bigger or smaller? (Conjecture: low-funding, low-prestige schools also have a higher failure/drop-out rate, and the those who leave earlier are even more unhappy, so the effect size would increase.)

    Is the observed effect due to the ability of the high-prestige schools to attract better students, who are generally happier with the teaching than poor students (independent of actual teaching quality)? Is there any way to separate the effect of student ability from the effect of funding?

    What happened at the outlier where a lot of money was spent but students weren’t as happy as expected? Was that a deliberate attempt to pour money into fixing a teaching problem? Or was it a school where administrative expenses were outrageous while teaching was shortchanged (like at many US universities)?

    The correlation that students like the teaching better at schools with more money is not very surprising, but it would be nice to know why.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  August 1, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      I completely agree. It’s not surprising, but interesting, and the data might be there to answer some of the other questions you raise — but not all of them. The UK is pretty intense about gathering data about higher ed. They publish additional data available like drop-out rates. So we can’t survey the drop-outs, but we can get a sense of how many are being trimmed, and thus, the potential size of the drop-outs if they were surveyed. I know that the UK higher ed administration does followup with students to see what they’re doing five years after graduation. If those data include institution, we could get a better picture of teaching score and the relationship to later student success.

  • 3. Mike C.  |  August 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    May be reading this wrong (I admit to only a quick scan) but it occurs to me that the recent work on self-efficacy indicates that the smartest students tend to blame themselves for their failures, whereas the less successful students tend to place the blame other places (including the teacher). If that’s true, we would expect students at more selective colleges to rate teaching higher. Is it possible that figures in here, or am I reading this wrong?

    In America, at least, there’s also a different issue — the average grade at an Ivy is an A- or so, the average grade at a public is a B. All those C’s a public college gives out makes for a lot more bitter students… anyway, just some thoughts…


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