The current discussion over higher education funding provides a good opportunity to ask: what is it we want from state universities?
I, for one, am confused by videos Arizona State University has posted on You Tube, like one called "University as Entrepreneur." This video uses buzzwords like innovation, entrepreneur, empowerment, experiential, sustainability, and (my favorite) the New American University.
The proper definition for entrepreneur, however, is "a person who has possession of an enterprise, or venture, and assumes significant accountability for the inherent risks and the outcome." Who then is being held accountable for the fact that 72 percent of Arizona State University students fail to graduate on time?
The word that comes to mind when I see a 28 percent four-year graduation rate isn't innovative or entrepreneurial, it's unfocused.
Education Trust identifies six peer institutions for ASU based on a variety of factors: Michigan State, Indiana Bloomington, Purdue, Central Florida, Louisiana State University, Texas A&M, and the University of Arizona. ASU is tied for last place with the University of Arizona for six-year graduation rates at a decidedly underwhelming 56.4 percent. Michigan State, IU, and Purdue all have a six-year graduation rate of over 70 percent. I strongly suspect that each of these universities is doing substantially more to further economic development in their respective states.
I'm a fan of the Old American University-the kind that would rigorously train students at a small fraction of today's cost in a four-year time span. Could ASU become such university? Perhaps, but it will have to lose the bombast and gain what it so obviously lacks: clarity of purpose.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: The Privately Financed Public University: A Case Study of the University of Michigan
Goldwater Institute: Cash for College: Bringing Free-market Reform to Higher Education
The Education Trust: College results online