Monday, August 13, 2012

Take Your Time

Part of my non-work identity is defined by three interests – Broadway musicals, chocolate and cars.  In the cars category, I read virtually every car magazine and look at virtually all car related websites.  I don’t claim this is in any way intellectual but growing up at the time that cars helped define the national and individual identity, and personified progress, made a tremendous impact.

At the end of last week, I was reading a newspaper review of a 2013 top of the line but still popularly priced imported car.  As part of the review, the writer commented unfavorably on the restyled grill and front end of the car.  I completely disagree and think the restyled car is noticeably better looking. In looking at most car magazine or newspaper reviews including this one, and especially car comparison tests, the end results are usually very close with “fun to drive” or some other subjective factor being the ultimate determinant of which car is ranked first.  I often disagree because subjective factors are just that, factors the depend on one person’s (or one magazine’s) priorities, which clearly differ from individual to individual.  For some reviewers, being able to go from 0 to 60 miles almost instantly helps determine the fun factor; it just isn’t that kind of priority for me.

I sometimes think that for too many parents and too many soon to be college students, there is too much reliance on the opinions of others, especially when those others are making determinations based on subjective factors. And here I am talking not only about college guide books but often also about family, friends, and teachers. How often over the years have I heard parents say that their son or daughter should go to and graduate from the same institution they graduated from?  How often, over the years, have I heard one soon to be college student saying to another that the other student should attend the same institution so that they can continue going to school together?  Or a teacher or a counselor stating that many of his or her students have loved institution X and this student will as well. All of these opinions and all of these reasons could be completely on target but there needs to be on the part of many families a more comprehensive effort to find the best match, not for someone else but the best match for the person who is about to enter college.

Within any quality band in higher education, there are many choices. These choices are limited for many by financial considerations, but even with those considerations, there are often multiple choices.  What matters most – possible majors, class size, living options, support services, internships, civic engagement, a religious framework, career services, etc?   These factors all enter into a student’s success.  All of us talk about what we, as colleges and universities, do well, and we deliver that message in a very convincing and comprehensive manner.  But for the college selection process to work as well as it can, there needs to be, on the part of many of those embarked on selecting a college or university, more of an effort to find the best fit.  Making the best use of scarce resources by graduating in the least time possible is only possible if the right choice is made regarding a college before day 1 of that undergraduate experience. 

We all know that informed decision making is key to the wise use of resources. But for individuals and families, we need to-do more to make this happen. In this time of constrained resources, how do we make sure up front the resources are there to ensure the best educational decision making?  No question, it will cost us more now but the savings over time will more than compensate.

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