Thursday, August 21, 2008

Free markets in higher education

Free markets continue to infiltrate higher education. I am not talking about the proliferation of for-profit institutions, I am talking about If you don’t have a kid in college, you may not be aware of the power this is bringing to college students everywhere.

My daughter is transferring to James Madison University for her second year. As a transfer student you don’t get first choice in scheduling. But for every class she schedules, she first checks to see if the professor is good or bad.

I have watched her become a very savvy consumer of higher education. She does not just believe the overall ratings but is now matching the professor’s characteristics to her own. She is the type that attends every class so she selects professors that give credit for that. She likes more work but does not do as well on big finals - so she will select professors who have graded work during the semester decreasing the impact the final exam will have on the overall grade. If she has a choice of two courses and doesn’t feel strongly about the content, she will take the better rated professor.

When I was going to school we just had rumors and horror stories to go by – not great information like this. Ratemyprofessors boasts over 7 million ratings in their database and we rarely find a professor that has not been rated by students.

This leads to some interesting questions such as – what happens to a tenured professor when no one takes their class because of the low ratings? Will good courses be dropped because of a perceived lack of interest when in reality it is just the professor? Will there be a Darwinian result for those ill-informed/lazy/tech adverse students who don’t bother to check the website before signing up for classes?

It is fascinating to watch. As a parent who is paying the bills, it is also comforting to know that my daughter will not be stuck in a class with a horrible professor who will wreak havoc on her GPA with unfair tests that don’t actually cover the material. And, hopefully she will take this finely honed consumer sense with her throughout her life.

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