Should We Measure ROI or ROE in Education?

The Ed-Tech environment is definitely improving the quality of education, especially in the higher education sector where lack of good teachers in the ‘chalk and talk’ class is dwindling (they are probably moving to ‘click and tick’ class on-line!)

But any change in a system is expensive; introducing educational technology in traditional learning methodologies is definitely cost and effort intensive. But this has to be done now, because learners these days are different, their preferences have changed, and they have the option to shop around for what suits them in the plethora of course options.

Many have argued that the structure of an educational institution, be it school, college or university, must undergo a paradigm shift from the instruction delivery to learning opportunities. In the new scheme, each faculty becomes designer of learning content and maintaining a learner-centered environment. Curriculum design is based on an analysis of what a student needs to know to function in a complex world which can be re-designed and offered on needs basis.

Now comes the cost. Up until now education in India was considered to be a social sector, financed by the government or charitable trusts. These days education has become quite expensive, especially higher education. Stakeholders have to finance salaries, infrastructure costs, costs for course curriculums and course upgrades, and costs of certification and official recognition amongst other expenditures. Learners have to dish out fees to access these in a physical form. Since any learning (that is what goes inside a learner’s head, and causes change in his/her attitude and behaviour) is very individualistic, most education is ‘one size fits all’ philosophy, and learners have to find their own way to develop their skills and competencies.

Since it is difficult to measure the usefulness of acquiring some education, we judge the ‘goodness’ of the monies spent by getting high marks, passing some exams, and getting into renowned colleges or obtaining a great job. The gratification on the monies spent happens many many years later……………it is unlike buying a soap or a pizza! Therefore, the ROI is hard to measure in short term. Getting any formal education is a long, lonely and almost a personal journey………….and if the journey does not end with a meaningful and fulfilling job and life, it is a meaningless journey!

These days as a result of the recent economic downturn, and growing student loans, the importance of ROI for various academic degrees, are being discussed. ROI is often touted to be crucial for students to know so they can determine what degrees will allow them to obtain higher-paying jobs to maximize their ROI as soon as possible after completing a degree or certificate. By contrast, ROI is often discredited by critics as a short-sighted measure of degree worth (or value) that ignores the importance of a broader educational experience, and that critical-thinking skills and a broad college experience are more important than simply being able to find a high-paying job after college.

In a recent CNN documentary on ‘Ivory Towers’ it is shown that meaning of obtaining education has undergone a much needed correction. I suggest that instead of measuring ROI, we should propose to measure ROE – a return on expectations, since expectations from a course curriculum can be promised, and measured using various assessment techniques (please see my earlier article on Analytical Framework, and Quality Assurance). ROI for investors and learners will be different, but ROE can be the same for all concerned, and that would be a good metric to start with, is it not?

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