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Is a research focus in undergraduate education a bad thing?

Ryan Craig – a contributor to Forbes – seems to think so.

According to a Brookings study published in January that utilized unique “matched student-faculty data” from Northwestern University between 2001 and 2008, “there is no relationship between the teaching quality and research quality of tenured Northwestern faculty.”

Craig makes the well-meaning argument that heavy investment in research-focused faculty doesn’t directly affect the quality of undergraduate instruction. After all, just because someone is recognized as a leader in their field doesn’t make them better at imparting their skills in the classroom.

He goes on to say that:

Colleges and universities that continue to allow faculty research agendas to drive curricula will find themselves at a disadvantage in preparing students for good first jobs. (Although research-driven curricula isn’t necessarily at odds with what employers need, it’s less likely to include the appropriate mix of cognitive, non-cognitive and especially technical skill development that most employers are seeking in entry-level hires.)

So is he right?

Yes. But I also believe he is missing the point.

On the surface, this is a classic case of correlation being confused for causation. There are many instances where an institution’s quality of instruction is driven by the output of research flowing from the faculty. There are also plenty of times where the research lives in the silo and has no bearing on undergraduate education.

Dig down deeper though, and you find a problem that transcends these issues of instruction vs. research. Namely, the lack of transparency in individual degree programs.

When you sell a college or university, you often have to rely on the strengths of the whole in order to persuade an individual student to enroll. An aura of high scholastics is presumed to permeate throughout, totally disconnected to the fact that each academic program is a small universe unto itself, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Just because program “A” has good teaching faculty with a skills-applicable research focus doesn’t mean that program “B” has the same thing.

This needs to change.

A student registering for a degree program needs to have ALL the data available. Not just program comparisons and U.S News and World Reports (often bogus) rankings.

Faculty/student ratios
Graduation rates
Career placement rates
Research association to industry

As marketing communications practitioners, we have a chance to lead the change. As education costs continue to rise, our customers will become more and more discerning. And the institution that leads with relevant transparency in program promotion will have an instant edge.

Does your institution’s programs provide a fast track to employment? Prove it. Lead with it.

Does your institution’s research support real-world industries? Will students studying in that field gain industry-specific skills as a result of this research? Shout it from the rooftops.

In the end, research is not the problem. In many cases, it is part of the solution.

But the real solution is colleges and universities providing real value to the people they serve. And your institution’s marketing is the frontline in providing that value.

Are you a rising star in providing value to the people and job-creators in your region? We want to work with YOU. Reach out to Recraft Media and start a conversation on taking your engagement to the next level.

Interested in working with us?