Friday, March 12, 2004

Thinking rationally about deaning and retaining 

I'm at the Public Choice Society meetings in Baltimore and earlier this morning heard two excellent papers on higher education. One paper discussed the activity of deans as supervising agents for the school's governing board. They note that presidents that have too much discretion, wherein the deans do not communicate with the board, have incentives to misrepresent the state of the college. "Our paper sees the Dean as the key communicative agent who signals the Faculty�s activities in a manner that gives substance and detail to complement the President�s reporting." This relates well to the points raised in Larry Roth's discussion that we posted on the Scholars last week. The fact that one of the presenters of that paper was a fifteen year dean helped the presentation greatly.

A second paper dealt with acceptance and retention rates in public universities. Interestingly they hypothesize that, if a school's reputation is harmed by graduating too many students (thus devaluing the degree), giving incentives for retention may not be beneficial. Reputation is helped by graduation to an extent, but not at the cost of letting everyone get through. What it gets at more generally is whether the cost of retaining freshmen is too high. If you admit poor students that need a great deal of remediation, is your school enhanced more by retaining them? Hard call.