The 2015 U.S. News and World Report college rankings were recently released, an annual event anticipated not only by administrators and faculty but also by students and alumni. Student interest is a no brainer: attending a top school can lead to a more desirable first job and greases the skids for long-term career success.
The rankings are heavily weighted by “outcome measures” such as graduation and retention rates.
However, we’re starting to hear considerable discussion about a different outcome measure that may be more relevant to today’s students than graduation and retention rates: the average student’s return-on-investment.
A college education ain’t cheap. Even state schools now have resident tuitions approaching $10,000 a year or more, and private schools can easily hit the $40-50K mark. Just. For. Tuition.
Is it worth it? That’s becoming the new question. What kind of payoff can a student expect in exchange for the expense of a college education? And are some colleges more cost-effective than others? Wouldn’t it be better to go there than to a top-rated school with a low student ROI?
Student ROI is the emerging new metric for the 21st century, the ratio of what a student spends on college to what a student can expect to earn over twenty years.
Setting aside the notion that salaries don’t tell the whole story of what a student might get out of a college education, it’s an enticing new way to look at higher education and one that is likely to increase in popularity as tuition rates continue to escalate.
What the ROI rankings also don’t take into account is how much a student’s future earnings are market driven or reflective of economic swings.
Even so, the most capable people tend to take home the highest salaries, and a college or university that wants to increase its standing among potential students needs to find creative new ways to impact their average student ROI by graduating these more capable people.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are one way to do this. Here’s our thinking:
The best students, the ones most likely to achieve once they enter the business world, are drawn to the best institutions — or their perception of the best institutions. The savvy institution draws on a variety of methods to help guide student perceptions of them as one of the best — and MOOCs can help.
Let’s say Wannabe College wants to increase its ranking. It produces a MOOC from one of its key degree programs.
When a potential student sees Wannabe’s MOOC listed alongside those offered by Stanford, Harvard or MIT, it produces a subliminal association that communicates academic quality — and equality. Wannabe College gets a boost to its reputation, making it more worthy of consideration by the best and the brightest students in that field.
The enhanced College reputation is also more likely to attract top faculty to Wannabe College, which creates a feedback loop that then attracts more top students.
Wannabe College can then build upon this impact by offering MOOCs that serve as calling cards for the school’s programs.
A great example of a calling card MOOC is the course Western Music History Through Performance offered on Coursera by the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. The course features student performances of challenging pieces, demonstrating the excellence of the school, its programs, and its faculty to gifted young musicians who might not otherwise have considered them — or even have known about the program.
A MOOC thus becomes a powerful promotional opportunity. Wannabe College can offer MOOCs that showcase various degree programs, creating a virtual digital portfolio that provides potential students with an inside look at what the College has to offer without ever stepping on campus.
The end result would be an influx of applications from smarter, more capable, more serious students. The increased number of high-quality candidates allows the institution to be more selective when accepting students and upgrades the student base as a whole. The potential ripple effect isn’t hard to predict:
A second logic stream brings matriculation rates into the picture:
Another contribution MOOCs can make to student ROI occurs after graduation. MOOCs are excellent sources of refresher material. Memory studies indicate that retention drops off dramatically if material isn’t consistently reinforced. Who remembers the formula for a quadratic equation the semester after college algebra?
While degree programs are designed to build upon previous knowledge — thus reinforcing some of the material — important bits and pieces can be lost over time if they are not actively recalled on a regular basis.
MOOCs can provide an ongoing way for students to review key material. A recent webinar by the research firm Bersin by Deloitte revealed that 56 percent of MOOC participants view only selected content. The content of interest may be new or may be material participants want to review.
Either way, MOOCs can become a source of ongoing supplemental information that can enhance a graduate’s job performance — and remuneration. Need to refresh your memory on some now-critical material from course you took as a junior? If your college or university offers a MOOC on that subject, you can review it PDQ.
In the same way, Higher Ed MOOCs are a source of continuing education that can further develop critical thinking skills and expand a graduate’s context, leading to better decision-making on the job. Even courses as seemingly unrelated to the business world as music have been shown to have an impact on students’ overall cognitive performance and therefore, their job performance.