Ferris State University Director of Honors Program
While big data has promised a radical transformation of higher education, the focus has primarily been on recruitment and retention. So far, there has been little discussion of how big data might inform academic decision making—primarily assessment and curriculum development. I hope to change that.
The well-known challenges of demographic shifts and reduced funding from the legislators are, in my mind, symptoms of the troubles of higher education, not the cause. Rather, I suspect that both of these are symptoms of a cultural change in the perceived value of higher education.
For example, in 1973, only 37.1% of incoming first-year students at UCLA claimed that they were attending college “to be better off financially.” 72.7% responded that they were interested in “developing a meaningful philosophy of life. By 2013, these rates had flipped: 82% want to be better off financially, while 44.8% want to develop a philosophy of life. In 2011, the Pew Research organization surveyed the American public regarding the purpose of college. 47% of respondents said teach knowledge or skills that would be useful in the workplace and 39% said help individuals grow personally. An addition 12% said both purposes equally.
The University’s primary function 40 years ago—providing a general education—is no longer the measuring stick by which the public perceives a college educations’ worth.
By building on the American Association of College and University’s VALUES; rubrics and, for comparison, the NCAAs stated ‘values,’ I measure the prevalence of the language of general education outcomes in the web corpora of about 4000 English-speaking colleges and universities in the US. The results are promising and suggest a broader project of categorizing institutions by their educational objectives, rather than their financial resources, admissions selectivity, and reputation.
If successful, these comparisons may allow college-bound students and their parents to make a more informed decision, and provide a ranking system based on educational vision rather than standardized test scores and endowment size.
The UCLA survey allowed the student to check more than one reason for attending college, so the percentages herein will not add up to 100.
Cited in Berrett, D. (2015, January 26). The Day the Purpose of College Changed. Retrieved August 4, 2017, from http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Day-the-Purpose-of-College/151359/, the original study is available for download. See Eagen, K., Bara Stolzenberg, E., Bates, A. K., Aragon, M. C., Suchard, M. R., & Rios-Aguillar, C. (2016). The American Freshman: National norms Fall 2015. Higher Education Research Institute. Retrieved from http://www.heri.ucla.edu/monographs/TheAmericanFreshman2015.pdf
Pew Research Center. (2011, May 15). Is College Worth It? Retrieved November 21, 2016, from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/05/15/is-college-worth-it/