Higher Education Strategy Associates

August 17

Data Point of the Week: These are Fantastic Graphs

…from U.S. researchers Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy on the subject of grade inflation. So fantastic, in fact, that I think I’ll mostly let them speak for themselves.


And this, of course, is at a time when institutions are becoming less selective, not more. Interestingly, though, it’s U.S. private universities – generally speaking more selective than publics – that are leading the grade inflation charge.


Since there’s no data to suggest that students are working harder than they used to, this is pretty much a straight-up change in grading practices. But what’s causing the change?

Canadian commentators James Coté and Anton Allahar would probably have you believe that grade inflation (or grade compression, as they more accurately dub it) is all due to the way that larger classrooms, disengaged students and manipulable teacher- evaluation schemes have given professors incentives to reduce standards – “they pretend to learn, we pretend to evaluate,” so to speak.

But this data – which shows that grade inflation/compression was more severe at the smaller and more selective institutions – suggests something different may be going on. In fact, Rojstaczer and Healy posit that the reverse is true – that diminished faculty disengagement expectations might be leading to disengagement.

Food for thought.

August 11

What Toronto Can Learn from Mike Bloomberg

Here’s an idea that deserves a lot more attention than it has received in Canada: the City of New York has issued an international RFP for schools that want to build a new engineering and applied sciences campus in the city. The winner gets $100 million and some free land. So far, over 20 universities from around the world (including the University of Toronto) have indicated an interest.

It’s brilliant: not happy with the mix of skills in your local economy? Don’t bother the provincial government. Don’t get local institutions to expand into areas in which they aren’t competent. Task an expert foreign institution to do it, and let them worry about issues like tuition, supply, demand, curriculum, etc.

Toronto has a similar problem to New York in that it has a massive hole in the local provision of education. But rather than missing subject fields like applied science, what’s missing in Toronto is an entire class of institutions. The GTA is filled with behemoths both at the university and college level because the provincial government has this weird size fetish; anyone who might benefit from a smaller school environment that is more capable of giving one-to-one instruction is simply out of luck.

Toronto should copy Bloomberg and offer two or three spots for providers to offer small, boutique liberal arts or professional institutions to fill this gap. There’s loads of land around town that is available (Downsview? The Docks?) and after a small initial investment for infrastructure, we could let the institution maintain itself through fees.

Sure, there are potential objections, but they’re easily dealt with. Worried about for-profit education? Put a rider on the contract to restrict the bidding to non-profits. Not happy that local, domestic providers aren’t being paid to do it? Well, they can compete for the award – and win it, if they are good enough. Worried about costs? We already have public institutions charging $20K or more for some programs, so it’s hardly a stretch.

If the United States of America – self-proclaimed home of the World’s Greatest Higher Education SystemTM – can mentally cope with the idea of turning to the world’s best to fill a market niche, maybe it’s time for us to think about it, too.

— Alex Usher

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