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What are Student Outcomes?

It must be nice to be able to comment on findings that no one else has apparently seen except the people who wrote it and the company that will distribute it. Makes one wonder (or not) on the reason for commenting.


In any case, I cannot determine what, if any, results were cherry picked from the “advanced look” at the report and if the author has some agenda in doing so. This is not to suggest what was commented on is inaccurate in any way but makes me suspicious about what is in the report that is not commented on that might argue against the author’s thesis that student outcomes are “somebody else’s problem”.

So, lets take a look at what we know:

  1. The responses are based on survey of 218 high-ranking administrators from public and private two- and four-year institutions. Fair enough. I’m going to assume that this was limited to United States based institutions since there is no suggestion that this was an international survey. So, here are my questions: How were those responses elicited? How many “high-ranking” administrators did not respond? How was the initial pool of respondents chosen and are the respondents representative of the overall population of “high-level” administrators?
  2. The author of the report stated in an interview that “The overarching takeaway is that it’s very unclear what “student outcomes’ means.” The surprise here is that they needed to do a survey to figure this out. Of course it is unclear because no one has defined it – or more accurately, everyone defines it to meet their particular (political) agenda – which suggests that it does not mean anything.
  3. The conclusion is that no one is responsible for something that is not clearly defined. Surprise!

I personally do not believe that Higher Education institutions are responsible for student outcomes the way most people think and talk about it. I do believe, however, that Higher Education institutions are responsible for ensuring there are no institutional barriers to a student’s success. And student success should be defined from the student’s perspective, not the institutional or governmental policy makers’ perspective. The barriers to be addressed by the institution should be defined and prioritized by students and more than likely change over time.

If what a student defines as success and what an institution can deliver are mismatched, then the student should seek out another institution. If the institution has difficulty meeting its enrollment goals then maybe it needs to redefine its purpose.

So, drop the initiatives and procuring yet more technology, clearly understand why students attend your institution and what your institution does well and what it does not do well. There is no global solution – a solution or solutions need to be crafted individually for each institution. And chances are a small survey sample is not going to help get you there.

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