Education, Universities

The Metrics Say that We’re (Among) The Best!!

Tuesday, 27th August 2019

We’re all about the metrics at UCF. And also vague headlines in the linked piece (“among” the best?). So, being a nerd, I downloaded the dataset that Washington Monthly used for their calculations. Here’s a summary of what they’re measuring:

  • 8 year graduation rate
  • Pell grants
  • First generation in college performance
  • Earnings of students 10 years out
  • Price of attendance
  • Loans and repayments
  • Research expenditures
  • Bachelor’s to PhD Rank (not sure what that means exactly)
  • Science and Engineering PhDs
  • Faculty receiving significant awards
  • Faculty in National Academies
  • Peace Corps, ROTC, Work Studies, Americorps
  • Voting engagement (?)

Out of these we get a social mobility rank, a research rank, and a service rank. Here’s their discussion of their method.

Obviously, there’s a lot to be unhappy with here, if you’re in the humanities, and if you still think a university should be about being at the cutting edge of knowledge production and creation across all fields of human endeavor. Only science and engineering Ph.D.s count? Earnings of students 10 years out matters for quality of education, somehow?

Dig deeper and there’s more to question. What’s a research “expenditure”? Is it just grants brought in? How does it reflect the quality of work done, or its significance? How do things like the Peace Corp, ROTC, and the like translate to “service”? Where’s interdisciplinarity in all this? Where are things like medicine, education, law, etc.? Where are the arts and humanities? Lots of other questions.

We had someone come to a department meeting awhile back to inform us that, whereas we previously were trying to increase our 6 year graduation rate, now we’re trying to increase the 4 year graduation rate. And everyone needs to get on board with this. We pointed out that in a philosophy department, people often find us after they’ve tried other things, and we were actually in favor of students trying things and finding the best fit for themselves. After all, very few know what they’re going to do the day they walk in the door. These arguments were brushed aside; she said that, well, other universities had convinced the state legislature to go with the 4 year rate because it made them look better, and they bought it, so now this is the game we’re playing and if we don’t play we lose money. So step up and stop whining. (she didn’t say that last bit, but it was clear what she was thinking).

What you measure is what you value. Corollary – what you think can’t be measured, or can’t easily be measured, must not be worth anything. It must necessarily come after what can be measured (which means, we will never get to it, because we will always be in a competition over what can be measured).

So yeah, we’re “among” the best on some highly dubious metrics, and it gets us what we want – a shiny gold star. It has nothing to do with education, unfortunately, but we’re gonna strut anyway.

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