Colleges should target learning, not time

April 24, 2010

The Morton Marcus [March 29] column on graduation rates hit home. I too do not like credentialism as an excuse to avoid evaluating performance. We are turning education more and more into what is better described as vocational training. We focus on time (four years) more than the capability to achieve a lifelong capacity for learning.

Tom Edison, George Westinghouse, Bill Gates and many others dropped out of school along the way and kept right on learning. I guide Ph.D. students and many keep moving ahead for a lifetime. Others check off requirement boxes, outlast the faculty and are intellectually deceased five years out of grad school. Nevertheless, they fill a spot where the job announcement required a Ph.D.

No doubt that MBA degrees in the thousands were required to destroy the economy with hubris, and teaching certificates are essential to quality education, more so than subject knowledge. I’m sure Marcus didn’t have a teaching license for anything in his 30 years at Indiana University.

Graduation rates are indeed very disturbing, but hitting 700 in baseball would be pretty good. Hitting 980 would take some pretty weak pitching. Given today’s life span and our knowledge-based economy, it does seem odd that high school and college are still four-year experiences, when a range of 3-6 would allow for a variable pace to get to the expected result.

Yes, employers want certificates or degrees because the owners of them “got through,” and it is a start. As an entrepreneur who has hired several thousand people, I only knew after a year if we’d done the right thing. Often I’d know I did the wrong thing after a week.

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Pete Kissinger

Professor of chemistryPurdue University

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