Monday, November 15, 2010

Winning by Degrees - misinterpreting by quartiles

News about another report for educators caught Howard's eye today. This one is called "Winning by Degrees: The strategies of highly productive higher-education institutions." Its producer, McKinsey and Company, did a workmanlike job of moving from "problem statement" to "conditions exacerbating problem" to "proposed solutions" to "exemplary attempts at imposing some proposed solutions" to "generalized principles that might be followed in proposing solutions in other places." These are typical stages of a study, and they should, indeed be mentioned. Because such studies want to be referenced in boardrooms where decisions are made and policies determined, the authors advocated 5 bullet points for inclusion in the discussion. Not one magic bullet, but five, are on display for those who seek to become more efficient at leading students to their educational goals. Here are the bullet points that will be taken away:

systematically enabling students to reach graduation
reducing nonproductive credits, contribute to raising the rate at which students complete their degrees
redesigning the delivery of instruction,
redesigning core support services, and
optimizing non-core services and other operations

The second point is one that will probably result in the greatest misinterpretation. This is where those whose desire is to turn collegiate education into trade school will, as they have before, propose that the traditional subject areas of the liberal arts and sciences are not productive and call for their removal from the curriculum. This was not what the report said. The report said that students often take more than 150 hours of credit on their way to a degree which calls for a minimum of 120 hours to complete. Increases of hours of credit are the kinds of events that usually follow events like the changing of majors, in which a path undertaken may wind up being neglected. In other words, few of a student's nursing hours can be counted towards the student's completion of a degree in political science. The key to resolving this, as recommended by McKinsey and Company, is better up-front academic advising that leads students to more efficient paths to completion. At no point in the McKinsey and Company report does anybody say anything about revising the content of the curriculum.

At this point, Howard acknowledges that he is fighting a straw man who has not yet appeared and made claims that certain parts of a curriculum are unworthy of being maintained. He has just seen this happen too many times. So he vows no more than a watchful eye at this point.

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