How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

How to Choose a College or Graduate School

A Consumer Reports-like approach to selecting a college or graduate school

We should be sick and tired of the lousy job colleges do with us: little valuable learning and not much better employability than if you didn't have a degree.

Graduate schools are no better: Whether an MD, PsyD, J.D., or MBA program, we’re there to be trained as professionals. Yet, too often, we’re taught largely by theoreticians, not masters at their profession.

Yet we keep paying a fortune and give years of our lives for that piece of paper mainly because, alas, employers insist on it.

We probably can’t change that but we should demand much more transparency from colleges so we can compare institutions on grounds more valid than whether their diploma bears a designer label.

If colleges were required to provide key data on how much their students grow in learning and employability, they might finally be embarrassed into reallocating money from silly research and porcine administration to quality education.

A College Report Card

What should that accountability look like? The government should give financial aid (Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, etc) only to those colleges that demonstrate that their students:

1) grow at least moderately in critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and problem solving as measured by an exam such as the well-validated Collegiate Learning Assessment. Greater growth would be expected from institutions with a top-flight student body.

2) graduate significantly more employable. For an average college, at least 2/3 of graduates should be professionally employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation.

What we can do in the meantime?

Alas, it may be a long time until the government mandates a College Report Card with any teeth. (It mandates an only minimally helpful one now.)

So what are you to do?

In choosing your college or graduate school, ask the admissions office these questions. If they won't give you the information, beware.

  • What is the average time it takes students to graduate from this program? (Note: That’s  different and longer than the “expected” time, which they tend to report.)
  • How much does the program’s average student grow in critical thinking and writing? Or if graduate school, what is the licensure pass rate?
  • What percent of graduates in this major or program are professionally employed in that field or a related one within six months of graduation?
  • May I see the results of your institution’s latest student satisfaction survey? For a graduate program, ask for the results from students in that program.
  • May I see the most recent visiting accreditation team’s report on your program or institution?

We have given higher education a free pass and mammoth access to our tax dollars while requiring less accountability than we do for a tire. That must screech to a halt.

Marty Nemko’s bio is in Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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