Investing in Education College Rating Systems Must Measure More Than Monetary Value, Argue Messiah College Professors

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Return on investment, or ROI, can sometimes be measured immediately. For example, day traders buy a stock low at the open and sell high before the close. The purchaser's net worth has increased by day's end, so there's a quick and obvious ROI. However, some ROIs don't happen overnight, and the returns on some investments aren't always financial in nature. A college education fits in that category.

However, many lawmakers don't seem to understand this, or worse yet, they believe that the value of a college education really can be boiled down to dollars and cents. A better way forward is to think about dollars and sense, but right now the "sense" part of the equation is being overlooked.

Don't misunderstand; the questions that lawmakers are asking are good ones. How much does a college education cost? How much debt will students incur? How much money will they be able to make after they graduate? These are important questions, but they are not the only ones that need to be asked.

The intention of a "college rating system" is to help students and their families understand the true costs and benefits that result from investing in a college education. Unfortunately, it will have the opposite result if the assessments are based solely on money.

Rating colleges on dollars alone -- how much college costs and how much it will increase future income -- risks turning learning into a simple commodity, like buying a house or a car or stock on Nasdaq. It says that what really matters in education is the financial ROI.

We disagree. What has made the American system of higher education the envy of the world is not merely that it helps people get ahead in life -- the financial side of the equation -- but that it also helps students make sense of their lives.

Everyone agrees that colleges and universities should provide instruction related to the skills and knowledge needed for landing and keeping a job, but America's institutions of higher learning have always aspired to do more than just that. …


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