Recently, an article appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes many of the issues associated with computing return on the college investment:
As I consider the viewpoints expressed in this article, I again wonder if the role of preparation is given sufficient attention.
A common assumption made by students and their families is that college will illuminate a clear career path and guarantee a certain salary. In other words, college is a ticket to the good life; you simply buy that ticket, and off you go.
My feeling is that we need to communicate much more clearly to the students that college is an enabling experience... not an entitling experience. If a student doesn't understand that key difference and realize that this is in fact a good thing, then that student probably isn't ready for college.
A transformative college experience is something in which students must truly participate- i.e. it's not a movie that they can sit through, passively view, and exit with more than they arrived. College should not be viewed as mere credentialing. Our students should be better prepared to engage and expected to engage; this is the "collegium" of college- it's not just some high-priced theatre that you watch. When students are ready to come and participate with the faculty and with each other, then the outcome is far greater for all.
And on this overarching topic of preparation to engage... what I think is most obviously missing from so many discussions of college's return on investment is how to gauge preparedness. Pre-college preparation is not measured simply by points on an ACT or SAT! The important question is whether the student has the academic and social maturity to get the most out of their experience. Many parents seem unaware that their students simply aren't ready to dive in... in which case, all the points and counterpoints about the college return on investment are fairly moot. Even the very best programs will do little for an underprepared student.
I first wrote about the 'prep problem' on this blog around a year ago.... and I'm even more convinced of its importance today.