Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Higher Education Meets The Hello Nurse

A few years ago, I watched a documentary by Adam Curtis.  In it, he told the story of the Hello Nurse.  The Hello Nurse was created by hospital administrators in Britain to meet complaints by politicians and the public that patients waited too long to be seen by health professionals.  What happened was that when a patient entered a waiting room, a nurse greeted her or him by saying "hello".  This was counted by the hospital administrators as a patient being seen, so that statistically the waittimes for patients to be treated would look very short.

Of course, in reality, things were worse.  Not only were the real waittimes as long as before, but now a nurse who could have been treating patients was basically off the floor and charged with being the hospital equivalent of a Wal-Mart greeter.  But, on paper, it looked great, and the politicians were able to claim to the public that the waittime problem had been solved.

I was reminded of the "Hello Nurse" story when I read a recent news article about Governor Kasich of Ohio USA signing a higher education funding bill that ties funding to graduation rates for public colleges.  Though the goal of the bill seems admirable in that it seeks to raise graduation rates and therefore improve the education and skills base of Ohio, I suspect that the bill will lead to worse education.  Just as the hospital administrators who created the Hello Nurse to "solve" a problem that the politicians charged them with solving, probably without those same politicians giving them more financial resources to actually solve the problem, college administrators will likely use every Hello Nurse trick in the book to raise graduation rates.  These likely will include the aggressive weeding out through admission standards of potential students perceived as unlikely to make it to graduation (those who would have to take remedial courses and whatnot) and pressuring instructors to water down the difficulty of courses so that more students who are admitted can graduate.  Then when graduation rates rise, the college administrators and the politicians can claim victory.

But it will be a Hello Nurse sort of victory.  Many potential students won't be given a chance, graduates will have learned less, a college degree will have less value, and it will likely do nothing to actually rein in the expense of college.  So Ohio will be less better off in reality, but on paper we'll look great with all the diplomas flying out of the state diploma mills.

Perhaps we'll even end up with a Hello Professor or two.    

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