Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What do Yale and Dubya have in common?

No. Not that he went there.

My daughter Mia is a junior in high school and is starting to look at colleges. She has visited a few and we've talked to a lot of folks about what the right school for Mia might be. She pretty much can pick the college wants but figuring out what is right isn't easy.

The one bizarre yet overwhelming academic wisdom about colleges is that the more selective they are the better thy are. The college acceptance rate, the lower the better like golf, is the key indicator.

I have yet to talk someone who has questioned the logic of this. Why is the measure of success for a college the level of selectivity? The default answer has to be that being amongst the "brightest" will make you even smarter. That the faculty can teach to a higher level and the academic dialogue with fellow students will be a higher level.

This argument is credible. But it is hard to imagine that those are the only factors that are relevant in learning. What about the quality of instruction or the diversity of student interactions? What is missing is an actual measure of the value-added that the college provides to each student.

The late columnist Molly Ivins once described George W. Bush has someone who was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. The same metaphor could be used to describe academia. Select the best students and then call yourself an elite institution. There just has to be more to it than that.

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