Letters and Opinion and Graduation Rates

Small schools give bang for buck

April 10, 2010

Economist Morton Marcus [on March 29] took issue with the notion that college and university graduation rates can be improved by tying compensation to increases (or decreases) in institutional graduation rates.

Improving graduation rates is a worthy goal, Marcus argues, but he predicts that educators will respond simply by lowering standards, watering down expectations, and producing more—but less well educated—graduates.

Moreover, Marcus theorizes that “employers want certificates or degrees because they recognize that those pieces of paper signify endurance. They want employees who have proven they can tolerate anything for an appropriate reward.”

Out in the real world, employers don’t hire pieces of paper. They seek and hire people who can think for themselves, communicate clearly and work in teams.

Much that’s written about higher education mistakenly assumes that “one size fits all”—theorizing that we can increase access and improve outcomes by enlarging institutions and delivering education technologically, rather than through face-to-face ongoing personal contact between teachers and students. Fact: Indiana’s independent colleges produce 35 percent of the state’s bachelor’s degrees by serving 24 percent of our state’s undergraduates on 5 percent of Indiana’s budget for higher education.

Indiana can become what Gov. Daniels calls “the best economic sandbox in America” by investing our hard-pressed dollars where recoveries always begin, in small businesses and in independent colleges.

Residential campuses like ours prepare men and women for significant careers through the liberal arts. They know that learning to do your own thinking, learning to communicate clearly, and learning to work with, for, and on behalf of other people is the path to a life of excellence, leadership and service. Fact: The four-year graduation rate at Indiana’s independent colleges is 60 percent, compared to 29 percent at state institutions.

Indiana can improve educational access and outcomes by employing the liberal arts to prepare graduates for productive and satisfying lives as leaders, professionals and citizens.

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James G. Moseley
President
Franklin College

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