The Commercialization of Education
In his 1993 movie "Indecent Proposal," Robert Redford, luring Demi Moore to spend one night with him for $1 million, showed the cultural zeitgeist by stating that "Yes, everything is for sale."
Today, this includes college education.
Every year since 1983, U.S. News & World Report publishes "America's Best Colleges," showing merely the tip of iceberg on how much education has been commercialized as the weekly treats higher education as a thing to be measured and weighed.
In those hands, college education becomes a commodity like cars or computers that have been rated by consumer magazines so that students and parents can buy accordingly.
In choosing a college, many students and their parents are swayed by the rankings without questioning the methodology behind the report.
Here are several questionable formulas in their methodology.
The report assumes that the quality of education can be quantified in numbers.
But, how do you translate the quality of discussions between professors and students into numbers?
They use the weighted formulas such as freshmen in top 10 percent of high school class, alumni giving rate (5 percent) and peer assessment score (20 percent).
Do all high schools have their class ranking system?
Do all students care about the alumni-giving rate?
Do all so-called "top academics peers" really know other institutions inside and out well enough to evaluate their quality?
What's the difference between the schools ranked No. 1 and No. 10?
Not much in the statistical sense from the report.
However, by listing the ranks arbitrarily in hierarchical order, the report creates an illusion of a huge gap to the uninformed readers.
What about such invaluable criteria as access to faculty, social climate, financial resources, quality of academic resources (library, labs and computers), housing and food service quality, sports program, job placement, advance studies in graduate and professional schools, and fostering of students' lifelong intellectual and psychological development?
To acknowledge the shortcoming of the rankings, therefore, the news magazine needs to put a warning sign just like the surgeon general's caveat for cigarettes: "It has been determined that reading these rankings may cause quick and uninformed choices concerning the colleges you think are right for you.
It contains misleading data which may not be helpful in identifying the real quality and character of a college in which you are interested."
Just as people still smoke by their choice in spite of the warning label, the report will shine through and be meritorious for some people who choose to believe it.
It is the perfect fodder for the pliable with herd instincts who are obsessed with status and prestige, and for those who need a therapeutic session that soothes their egos.
The ranking report indeed is a sad commentary on our society, in which many are infatuated with lists and rankings.
It shows we care too much about what is outside and too little about what is inside.
Hence, we need to rethink about the real purpose of college education.
Students and their parents shouldn't be swayed by the ephemeral rankings but rather listen to what John Dewey said: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."
So, do you want to measure your life according to the indecent proposal filled with spurious formulas provided by the weekly?