Should State Colleges Be Measured by How Quickly They Churn Out Grads?

The U.S. Supreme court is poised to render its decision on Fisher vs. University of Texas, the largest affirmative action case the court has heard in years. While researching information on the subject, we stumbled on this opinion piece at the New York Times entitled Questioning the Mission of College. The author, Frank Bruni, asks some very interesting questions, beginning with this:

Do we want our marquee state universities to behave more like job-training centers, judged by the number of students they speed toward degrees, the percentage of those students who quickly land good-paying jobs and the thrift with which all of this is accomplished?

The article goes on to look at specific financial and political divides in Texas and elsewhere, however, the questions Bruni raises apply to state schools across the nation. As he points out,

"Funding of public universities hasn’t just declined; it’s plummeted."

That's a grim reality for students facing higher tuition costs and an uncertain job market all across the nation.

And the higher education industry overall seems to be wrestling with balance, pondering if college is right for everyone. Should we promote higher education if it doesn't result in a good job for those that graduate? But what do we give up if we do so, and does it matter? For example, in a quote from Hunter Rawlings, the president of the Association of American Universities, Bruni points out:

“Many of the kids graduating from college these days are going to hold a number of different jobs in their lives, and many of those jobs have not yet been invented. For a world like that, what’s the best education? Seems to me it’s a very general education that enables you to think critically.” For precisely that reason, Rawlings [sic] said, the push in China now is for more young people to study humanities, even as the new emphasis here is vocational.

There are tough questions to be asked and tough decisions to be made in higher ed, and this piece highlights very well that state schools are already caught in the middle of a minefield, balancing the often unquantifiable benefits that learning provides with the all-to-harsh reality that you can't pay back college loans if you can't find a job.