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Admissions 101: Is our tendency to choose colleges with the shiniest toys hurting efforts to improve the teaching of students?

As I predicted, I am being drawn and quartered for doing a column about a new book by Andrew S. Rosen, chairman and CEO of Kaplan Inc., saying for-profit colleges are here to stay despite outrageous practices by his and other such companies that have inspired new federal regulations. That will not deter me from raising an issue the book discusses that is relevant to this discussion group: has spending on expensive campus improvements like gourmet restaurants, luxury dorms, gorgeous recreation centers and other stuff that impresses applicants gone too far at state and private non-profit colleges?

Among many examples he cites is the Texas College Climbing Wall War, where Baylor announced plans for a 41-foot wall, but then Texas A&M said it was doing a 44-foot wall so Baylor changed its plan to a 52-foot wall and then the University of Houston built a 53-foot wall. The money gets much more serious when the competition is over new buildings and star professors, neither of which do much for those colleges' success in producing well educated undergraduates. One analysis of the Collegiate Learning Assessment tests given to freshman and seniors shows only half showing any significant gains in analytic and writing skills. A 2010 study by the Organization  for Economic Cooperation and Development said in 2007 the United States spent 3.1 percent of its gross domestic product on postsecondary education. That compares to  the 1.5 percent spent by other OECD countries, all developed nations, many of which are producing more college graduates per capital than we are.

Respond in the comments: Should we, or can we, stop being so impressed by these big sparkly items on the college tour?

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