Are these college presidents clueless?

by Grace

Only 65% of College Presidents Say It’s ‘Very Important’ That Grads Get Good Jobs
And just wait until you see what they say about tuition.

That percentage comes from a Gallup poll released this month.  The poll also showed that only 58% of college presidents  believe the percentage of students who graduate is “very important”, prompting Jordan Weissmann to ask:

If those aren’t tops on your priority list right now, what the hell is?

Apparently the cost of college is also not a priority, given that only 39% responded that the price of a degree is “very important”

Weissmann considers that perhaps he is being hypercritical.

… Perhaps the 37 percent who think graduation rates are only “somewhat” important when determining whether a college is any good are trying to take the sort of painfully nuanced view their fellow denizens of academia would expect.

I don’t know about their “nuanced” views, but I’m with Weissmann in believing that jobs, graduation rates, and cost of attending should be at the top of the list of what college presidents consider very important.

Related:  Families paying for college tuition have been hardest hit by inflation (Cost of College)

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5 Comments to “Are these college presidents clueless?”

  1. Maybe they should lie when answering these surveys! 🙂

    Seriously, what measures of a college most affect fundraising? I don’t know, but jobs and graduation rates should figure in prominently. But maybe in many case a winning sports team is more important, or at least as important as these other factors.

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  2. I’m not in agreement that jobs, graduation rates, and price of attending are the most important things for a college president to be thinking about. They would be for a vocational school, of course—but evaluating colleges as vocational schools is one of the serious mistakes that current politicians are foisting on colleges.

    As a parent of a kid about to go to college, I think about the price (can we afford it?), but more about whether the school is a good fit for my child and will provide the education he needs. If we can find a perfect fit, can get him in, and can afford it, the price itself is not a major criterion. Getting half the price at a school that would be a poorer fit is not a bargain we’re interested in. (Of course, some of the schools are pricing themselves so high that we may not be able to afford them even if the fit is perfect.)

    Most of the schools we’re looking at (with the exception of some large public schools that admit huge numbers of unqualified students for political reasons) have high graduation rates, but that is a by-product of selective admissions, not a goal of the school. The intense focus on graduation rates confuses the marker with the substance: a high graduation rate is a marker for selective admissions, and no much more than that. (Without selective admissions, a high graduation rate is often a sign of a diploma mill, with very low educational standards.)

    Jobs are also not primarily a college concern—they’re dependent on the fads and whims of the business world, which bears little relationship to the quality of the education. Of course, my son is interested in computer science, which is currently a field where jobs are relatively easy to find (though it is subject to perhaps the biggest swings in popularity of any field in academia, and the job market swings are large also, usually out of phase with the swings in the number of graduates).

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  3. “a high graduation rate is a marker for selective admissions, and no much more than that”

    I think that is not the whole story, although I agree it is a factor. I have to believe the stories I hear about many schools having advisory or overcrowding problems in some courses that creates a problem for students graduating on time. In fact, I know one kid who resorted to taking summer school courses at another institution so he could graduate on time. Of course, I also believe colleges should generally only accept students prepared to do college-level work.

    On price, I strongly believe it should be a priority. Maybe another way I’d put it is to say they should be doing everything possible to squeeze the most value out of every dollar.

    On jobs, I just think that one of a school’s priorities should be the ultimate employment of its graduates, even if forces beyond its control affect the year-by-year results on jobs.

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  4. “Most of the schools we’re looking at (with the exception of some large public schools that admit huge numbers of unqualified students for political reasons) have high graduation rates”

    I think I know what you mean by “political”. Broad support for funding higher education requires a commitment to admit everyone who wants to get a college degree?

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  5. Grace said “I think I know what you mean by ‘political’. Broad support for funding higher education requires a commitment to admit everyone who wants to get a college degree?”

    That’s part of it. There is also the perceived need for racial or geographic balance among the students, even if some parts of the state do a very poor job of preparing kids for college, so even the University of California, which is supposed to be fairly selective, has to admit a large number of underprepared students. Because they can’t legally select based on race, they now admit the top 9% in the state and the top 9% “in the local context”, then do a bunch of “holistic” admission after that. Many of those admitted for being top “in the local context” are bright kids who’ve never been taught to the level needed for college. The attrition rate for them is quite high.

    Grace also said “I have to believe the stories I hear about many schools having advisory or overcrowding problems in some courses that creates a problem for students graduating on time.” Yes, that is definitely a problem at some of the state schools who have had state support slashed year after year for over a decade (like in California). Many courses that used to be taught every quarter are now only taught once a year, because the instructional budget doesn’t stretch to covering enough faculty (while administration continues to grow at a high rate).

    Some of the problems are also self-induced by the students, who ignore advice to start long prerequisite chains early and who delay tough courses to their senior year, then fail them. At UCSC we are no longer allowed to disqualify students from a major once they have declared it, even if they repeatedly fail required courses—we used to be able to suggest rather forcefully that they switch to a major within their capabilities, but now they can keep beating their heads against the wall until the university throws them out without a degree.

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