Do you believe your own hype? -

Do you believe your own hype?

A recent U.S. survey has redefined patting yourself on the back, and it’s only going to hurt students


A recent study found that up to 90 per cent of grads at post-secondary institutions in the United States saw value in their education, and found that post-secondary education had prepared them well for the workforce. Up to 97 per cent of grads at some schools said that, while the school with the lowest approval was still a staggering 80 per cent.

Surveys like this are great when it comes to approving the status quo. Take a small group of campuses — in this case, only 22 — then have the study administered by a larger group of post-secondary institutions. Limit the survey to graduates — so as to prevent having the results influenced by dropouts and students who transferred out — and the self-selected group of universities will get glowing reviews from the students who succeeded most thoroughly from their education.

Strangely enough, these successful students — over a third of whom said that post-secondary institutions are adequately preparing their students for the workforce — also agreed that cost was not an issue in their education. They also advocated for deregulation of tuition, as more than half of the respondents said that it was up to the individual institution to keep tuition fees affordable, not the state or federal governments.

Surveys like this present obvious selection bias that endangers the future of post-secondary accessibility.

By leaving out future students, dropouts, transfer students and those who just couldn’t hack it, the study has by design omitted negative views, views that would require universities to examine themselves more carefully and become more inclusive.

By limiting the survey to graduates, the survey could also be picking up a kind of buyer’s remorse. The University of Brooklyn notes that psychological theory exists to support the idea:

“After making a purchase, a consumer is nervous about the brand choice especially if a great deal of effort and/or money is involved. The consumer will try to reassure herself that she made the right choice. She might pay more attention to the ads of the selected brand than brands she did not buy after the purchase as a means of reassuring herself that she made a good choice. Sometimes, post-purchase dissonance is referred to as buyer’s remorse.”

If there are some graduates who participated in this survey who were not confident about their choice of post-secondary education, this theory supports the idea that they could have become more supportive of their education over time.

This is not to say that there is no value in education. Not in the least. But there is room for improvement in many areas: accessibility, cost, job preparation and inclusiveness, to name a few. If surveys like this are the data that institutions are using to gauge their success, they are purposefully painting themselves a rose-coloured picture. It is both inaccurate and unfair.

The American Council on Education is right to conduct surveys to see where they stand in the world. But those surveys should be accurate and represent all students. They should not be self-pandering press release material that supports the status-quo.


Do you believe your own hype?

  1. I wonder… did they ask recent grads, or were people who’ve been out for a few years included?

    Personally I like to think the workforce helped prepare me for school!

  2. Ms. Webb’s posting regarding recent survey work conducted by the American Council on Education mischaracterizes both ACE’s motivation and methodology in conducting this poll.

    As the parent organization of the GED Testing Service, a partner with the Ad Council in the KnowHow2GO college access campaign, and a staunch advocate of increased federal aid for students of all ages, we’re well aware that there is still much work to be done to ensure that more people have the opportunity to go to college. This fact does not diminish the importance of surveying graduates to determine their level of satisfaction with their postsecondary education.

    It’s also important to point out that the results Ms. Webb cites came from a national poll of college graduates who were randomly selected. The 22 institutions referenced were interested in having our national instrument used in a poll of their young alumni in order to benchmark their level of satisfaction.

    Apparently Ms. Webb can’t bring herself to believe that people who spent time and money on something may actually believe that they got their money’s worth. We’re happy to accept their judgment that they did.

    Terry W. Hartle
    Senior Vice President
    American Council on Education