In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about a company, ConnectEdu, that is bringing the same sort of matching that’s used in online dating services to college applications. It seems promising to me and may diminish the prevalence of students enrolling at schools where they are poorly matched. Unfortunately, we still have an informational asymmetry. College officials know a lot about prospective students, but the students will don’t know much about the school. Will a more prestigious, highly-ranked institution mean a better education? Not necessarily. Finding out about the academic culture of colleges, which ranges from Animal House to scholarly monasticism, is crucial, but that takes a lot of digging.
In the recent book by Clay Christensen and Henry Eyring, The Innovative University, the authors contend that many colleges and universities will be left in the dust unless they figure out how to adapt, much as companies have crumbled when innovative technologies hit their markets and they couldn't rapidly adjust to it.
Last week we started a new "Question of the Week" series. Our first question was Why did you choose the college you attended/attend? Readers answered via email, Twitter, and website comments: John D. Beatty: I chose American Military University because of its accessibility, cost and flexibility. Cashew14: I chose The King’s College because I got a good scholarship & really liked the college's vision & the people I met. Also fell in love w/ NYC. Josephmcbee: I was told by my employer that I needed a degree or I would lose my job. I chose a program I could complete part time in two years or less. DLeiv: because it was challenging academically, in line w my aspirations & in NYC, where I could really apply what I was to be taught. K. Tyson: It was close. Roger W. Barnett: NROTC scholarship at Ivy League school (Brown). (In the era "BC" --Before the Craziness) Juliemrobison: I picked Hillsdale because they accept no federal funds, the American Studies program, small, and they teach how to think, not what This week's question is How Many Colleges Should Students Apply To?
In the twentieth century, psychologists who studied human resource management realized that employment tests were the best way to select job applicants. Tests need to be verified or "validated," though. Much of the personnel psychology literature is devoted to the study of whether one test or another is valid for various purposes. One finding is that IQ tests work. They explain a fourth of the variance in job performance. Despite the efficacy of employment testing it seems likely that the chief method of allocating human resources in the United States is the college or university attended. Graduates of prestigious institutions obtain jobs in high-end Wall Street, advertising and consulting firms. Other college graduates get good jobs in corporations and government. Non-graduates often do not. Baccalaureate institution attended is accepted by all as a human resource allocation method. But it lacks validation. Having recently been exposed to medieval history I learned a concept prevalent in the medieval world that seems to explain the fixation on college rankings--"the great chain of being". In medieval times, it was believed that the social hierarchy reflected the celestial hierarchy. The king was like God, the nobles like angels, etc. The interest in ranking colleges and universities and using them to allocate human resources is atavistic. The twentieth century rejected the nineteenth century's individualism in favor of medieval institutions. The idea that higher education is first and foremost a liberal and learning experience seems to have been sacrificed in the interest of the great chain of being.