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EDITORIAL: Graduates’ personal choices aren’t college outcomes

When considering the benefits of getting a college education, factors such as a graduate’s volunteer work or whether or not they vote aren’t typically what first come to mind.

Rather, people might think of graduates’ employment rates and income. After all, the value of a college degree can easily be defended by its economic value after graduation, such as the difference in wages between those with a four-year degree and those without. 

However, to offer a more holistic description of what college has to offer, Inside Higher Education reported that the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities recently revealed a project to measure student outcomes by also considering “human capital,” which includes criteria from graduates’ career satisfaction and advancement to their charitable donations.

The value of higher education is definitely not limited to quantitative outcomes, such as the income of graduates from any one university. Yet graduates’ “human capital” shouldn’t be attributed to their having attended college since these characteristics are more telling of graduates’ personal, individual choices. 

Just as employment rates are measurable, elements of “human capital” are, too. For instance, according to an overview of the plan, “social giving” can be measured with the charitable donations and volunteer work of graduates.  

Still, while these particular outcomes can be measured in the same way as traditional college outcomes, it leaves one wondering how colleges can nurture things such as voting and career advancement for their students.

Granted, voting participation is something that can increase based on education. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in the 2012 election, 75 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree voted in comparison to the 53 percent with a high school diploma.  However, though voting is a tendency among this demographic, it doesn’t offer insight into what individual schools do to influence students to vote. 

The same goes for the choice to take the time to volunteer, or one’s career satisfaction. These factors seem more indicative of personal qualities than the value of going to a specific school.

This disconnect between an individual college graduate and an individual college is important because, as the Inside Higher Ed article reported, one of the goals of this plan is to potentially influence how policy-makers look at college value. Though the associations did not address particular proposals underway, such as President Barack Obama’s college rating system, as the article noted, the overview did mention the possibility of comparing universities based on these outcomes.

As the overview addressed, factors such as charitable giving could be directly related to other factors, such as income, which is more related to how college outcomes are usually measured, and could be an indirect effect of going to college. 

Even with that in mind, schools should not be held accountable for the personal choices of their graduates. While these “human capital” characteristics may demonstrate an ideal in defining the value of education, there is a fine line between what a school does to improve upon them and a
graduate’s own desires.