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Big Ideas

3 ways Harvard President Drew Faust measures colleges

Kai Ryssdal Jul 22, 2014
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By 2015, the Obama administration will evaluate colleges on average tuition cost, low-income student enrollment, graduation rates and job earnings after graduation.

When they released this proposal last year, the higher education community generally disagreed with their criteria. One strong critic is Drew Faust, the president at Harvard University. Here are some measurements she thinks are important to consider:

Measurement: Jobs, but not salaries.

Faust is not opposed to focusing on kinds of work students can do after they graduate. However, she believes emphazing earnings at a first job distorts the picture.

“Some of our economists at Harvard have done analysis of this, and find that you really only begin to get an accurate reflection of lifetime earnings if you look at 10 years out. So I think they’re looking hard at more nuanced ways of measuring output of education.”

Measurement: The percentage of students on financial aid.

Of course, she cites the stats from Harvard: They accepted 5.9 percent of the 24,294 applicants for the entering class of 2014, and Faust says they have expanded financial aid programs so that those select few can actually afford to enroll.

“We have a financial aid policy that supports 60 percent of our undergraduates,” she said. “They pay an average of $12,000 a year.”

Faust also said that about 20 percent of Harvard’s class makes no parental or family contribution at all.

Measurement: How digital-forward teaching is.

The big push at Harvard right now is digital — Harvard edX, where anyone can take classes from their computer. Faust says this provides acess to the knowledge and research for students, researchers and educators around the globe. 

“We get many students from Asia and Europe,” she says, “and our students expect to live their lives and practice their professions and fields in a global environment.”

Faust also says learning and “the fundamental value of learning and challenging ourselves in the realm of research and relating our research and teaching” are key principles to any education system. She thinks its better to focus on how education and learning can better a student, rather than how much they will make.

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