In a discussion about the use of standardized college admissions test, William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard university, says:
“At Harvard we get terrific students, and we turn out terrific students later on. Is that due to Harvard or is that due to the students to begin with? Who knows?”
I appreciate honesty and candor as much as the next guy but shouldn’t you know? Students pay a lot of money to go to Harvard, the government kicks in a bunch as well, and here a high-ranking official admits that the university really has no idea whether it adds any value or simply provides a pure sorting-and-networking service. Of course the phenomenon of human learning is extremely complicated and subject to all kinds of endogenous and exogenous factors, so this is not a simple question to answer. To really make some headway you’d need at minimum a group of very smart, highly-skilled people with access to large amounts of resources along with specific training in various complex research and analytic methods, plus proximity to thousands of potential subjects to study. In other words, a place just like Harvard University. I mean, they’ve got research centers devoted to figuring out everything from astrophysics, genomics, and nanotechnology to cancer, AIDS, and peace in the Middle East. Is it crazy to think they could figure out how much they contribute to their own students’ learning?