The Big Problem with Best Value

525739698_6af2ceb1be_mThe New York Times published an article just a couple days ago about college rankings. The rankings they discussed weren’t the traditional ones, though. They didn’t talk about the “best schools.” Instead, they focused on lists of schools that provided the “best value.”

So what defines a “best value” school? That’s just the thing; nobody seems to have any idea. And that’s only part of the problem.

Disclaimer: I went to a weird artsy-fartsy school where we had to opt for grades if we wanted them and where we were taught to be wary of anything that ascribes a number value to abstract concepts, so it’s natural that I don’t like this idea of “best value” rankings. But my main issue isn’t just in how we measure value; it’s how these rankings could negatively impact a student’s decision making process when it comes to choosing the right college.

Do we really want incoming college students and college transfers to take on the role of a financial planner? Someone who is between 16 and 21 years old has about 14 billion things on his or her mind, many of which seem (and, in the context of a teenager’s life, are) very important. Do we want to add “potential financial stability later on in life” to the list of things they need to feel worried about right now?

Of course, tuition costs and scholarships will play a major part in deciding what college someone goes to, but that should be one of the last stops on the college-planning process. The first step is to think about what kind of college community you want to be a part of. The second thing is to visit those kinds of college communities to see if you really actually do want to be a part of them. The third step is to apply. Financial stuff comes later.

And you know why? Because college is not just a four year job training retreat. It’s potentially the most important formative experience of your life, so by putting too much consideration into a school’s monetary “value” (again, something that the New York Times article points out as being very difficult to define) you might miss out on all the other great things it has to offer. Or as Dr. Muyskens, president of the often “best value” ranked Queens College, says, “…if we go too far on the value added and cost, we’re going to have people too focused on the practical to explore.”

Practicality can wait. And it will. Just look at me. I never took a class on copywriting or advertising in school. In fact, there were no classes in copywriting or advertising offered at school. But I was given the opportunity to take the time to get to know myself and to learn how to solve problems creatively, and now I have a great job at a company that values my take on things.

Like I said, practicality can wait. Take your time. Explore. Sometimes you need to look past the “best value” to find what is invaluable.

(photo by Flickr user Andrew Schwegler, used under a Creative Commons License).

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