Please Ignore the Huge Pile of Payola Behind the Curtain

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The New York Times turned in a must read article on Arizona State University President Michael Crow:

He quickly made a name for himself, increasing enrollment by nearly a third to 67,000 students, luring big-name professors and starting interdisciplinary schools in areas like sustainability, projects with partners like the Mayo Clinic and Sichuan University in China, and dozens of new degree programs

But this year, Mr. Crow’s plans have crashed into new budget realities, raising questions about how many public research universities the nation needs and whether universities like Arizona State, in their drive to become prominent research institutions, have lost focus on their public mission to provide solid undergraduate education for state residents.

I love the way the term “quality” is used by Dr. Crow. Maybe it is just me, but it certainly appears to me that ASU has been seeking to create the appearance of quality more than the reality. As JPGB readers will recall, ASU’s four year graduation rate is 28%, lowest among the peer institutions as identified by the Education Trust.

Case in point, National Merit Scholars- ASU has a lot of them. But **ahem** there is a little problem identified by the New York Times:

Arizona State University recruits National Merit Scholars nationwide with a four-year $90,000 scholarship, a package so generous that Arizona State enrolls 600 National Merit Scholars, more than Yale or Stanford. Through the cuts, Mr. Crow has kept that program, even while proposing to cut a scholarship for Arizona residents with high scores on state tests, a proposal the state regents turned down.

In their promotional materials, ASU boasts of the number of National Merit Scholars they enroll, but doesn’t bother to mention the obscenely large bribe offered in order to get those National Merit Scholars. If I wanted to be cruel, I’d compare this package to another university and…

Okay, so I’m cruel: the Education Trust identified the University of Indiana Bloomington as the highest performing peer institution for Arizona State based on 4 year graduation rates (over 50% for IU). Last year, their National Merit Scholars had an average package worth $13,609 each.

For some reason, ASU feels compelled to offer almost seven times as much as IU. Maybe the weather is just better in Indiana. Oh wait, you don’t have to hang around at ASU in the summer, so it can’t be the weather.

Well, um, some people don’t like palm trees…

One Response to Please Ignore the Huge Pile of Payola Behind the Curtain

  1. Bob says:

    I’ve been doing brand development for colleges and universities for a dozen years, and your comments have special meaning for me. Of course, ASU is not alone in the quest for better rankings. Virtually all of our client institutions in recent years have engaged in a mad race to “enhance” their image. Typically, what this means is improving student performance by any/every means possible so that they are ranked among the “top tier.” It does little or nothing, however, to actually improve education or benefit the communities/states they serve. Thanks for the insightful piece.

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