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“Value” in higher ed is not “cheap and fast…” #highered

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***This is the first in a couple of blog post I plan to offer on how value is considered in higher ed.

Recently there has been quite a bit of attention focused on a new methodology to measure the “value” of a college degree. This new “value” formula uses a calculation that looks at time to degree completion and overall student debt.  An independent think tank, Education Sector, has been credited with the new way of measuring value. If you are interested you can read more about this in The Chronicle of Higher Education in the article “To get a college ‘value,’ report looks at student debt and degree completion together.”

While I admire the effort to simplify the value formula for the sake of students and parents, I am not sure this particular formula really does much to advance the cause of pinpointing what makes one college or a college degree from a particular college more or less valuable than another. In fact, I think this formula dismisses (or does not adequately consider) the very things that make a college education valuable.

What are those things?

It’s the experiences that a student has in an environment—not the time spent or even the resources expended. This formula does what our broader society does—equate value with cheap and quick. Is this really what we mean when we think about the value of higher education? Isn’t there something more to what represents a value?

What I regret about the term value is that it has been co-opted to mean cheap in most circumstances—particularly as it relates to a college degree (i.e., “Value Meals” at most fast food chains).

However, there remain some circumstances where the term value maintains its meaning as something that is valuable, rather than just cheap.

I long for a time when we restore the idea that value in higher education means that something is valuable, or even rare, as is the case with something like a diamond or an antique.

It’s my belief that those colleges which represent the greatest value are those that offer transformative experiences for students, regardless of price.

Seriously, how can one reasonably make the case that there is no difference in how valuable a degree is dependent upon from where one graduates college? Are all degrees created equally? Are all experiences the same?

Reasonable people will say no.

Informed people will go even further and recognize that we continue to live in a society where many people continue to pay more for something that is special, rare or perceived to be more valuable.

Why don’t we spend more time and resources proving what we already know; that there is a “value gap” in experiences between colleges instead of simplifying the context and misleading the market about what makes and education valuable?

I’ll be the first to say that I’ve not yet developed the perfect message to describe the “value gap” at Augustana versus other colleges, but I know it needs to be done.

I also know that if the only way I can discuss Augustana as a “value” is to convince students and parents that we are cheap and quick, I am grossly misrepresenting all of what they will experience here and how much it will mean to them, how much they will value their experiences and how valuable their experiences will be to them for the rest of their lives.

Value is not cheap and fast.

Let’s get back to thinking of value as valuable and having worth that stands out.

What are your thoughts on value and the value of a degree? Have you come up with a way to describe the “value gap” between your institution or alma mater that makes it better than a cheaper/faster place?

Kent Barnds (a.ka. bowtieadmission)

Kent Barnds

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1 Comment

  1. […] best to discuss value and valuable experiences in a previous blog post, which you can read here and here. And, I’ve heard myself say, “We need to sell value” to various stakeholders here […]

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