Monday, April 4, 2011

The Easy Choice

I have been busy completing my remarks for this season’s first admitted students’ day event.  Actually there are now multiple admitted students’ day events since we want the experience to be both as convenient and as personal as possible.  And though my remarks are substantially changed from what I said last year, the message each and every year has been remarkably similar. I urge potential undergraduate students and their families to look for the long term value of the higher education the students are about to embark on.  I encourage students and their families to find the education that is a “best fit” with the needs and interests of the students.  I focus on the value of excellent teaching plus support services and I also stress that national accreditations equate to verifiable quality.  And I note the importance of a fully textured undergraduate experience including internships, civic engagement and athletics.  And this is an easy speech for me to deliver since I completely believe in what I am saying.

Earlier this week I went to a local swim center for an end of the day swim.  Swimming laps for me is a mindless way of not only getting cardio-vascular exercise but swimming also provides a wonderful venue for thinking through what happened that day or just before or just after that day.  While swimming I was thinking about admitted students’ day and whether I should make any major changes in the thrust of what I was saying.  I was still thinking about my message when I left the pool and went back to the locker room to change.  At the other side of the locker room there was a conversation in progress between what I gather were a handful of high school seniors.  These young men were loud and they were talking about choosing colleges for next year.  It didn’t appear that any of their parents were around and they did not notice me since there was a bank of lockers between where I was and where they were.  One of the young men indicated he had already made up his mind to go to a local college (not Hofstra).  He indicated it was an easy choice since the school selected offered more of what he wanted.  Another kid asked him why not another area school.  And the first young man volunteered without any hesitation that the local school he had decided on had “easier girls” and “easier courses” than the other choices.  Unfortunately no one followed up by asking the first young man the basis for these conclusions.  And the conversation switched shortly thereafter to weekend plans and cars, and a few minutes later the young men left the locker room.

 What are the deciding factors in the selection of a college or university?  I know what I want them to be for a decision of such importance.  As indicated above, long term value, best fit, teaching excellence, verifiable quality, a fully textured experience are at the top of the list.  I also recognize the financial constraints that many families face.  But are these the factors that matter most, or is the decision made on the basis of factors that really shouldn’t carry the day?  When a student selects a for-profit institution, is it based on the education provided or is it based on sophisticated marketing?  When a student selects the absolutely lowest cost alternative, is it based on the education meeting the needs of the student, or simply the absolute cost considerations?  Are easy schools favored; the closest schools favored; the furthest schools favored; a party school favored?  A regional clothing chain has always stated that “an educated consumer is our best customer.”  Our standard should be at least as high and we should all do whatever we can to increase the sophistication and expertise of our customer. We would all benefit: the student would have the education that was right for him or her, and we would have higher retention and graduation rates.

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