Updates - NYIT Office of the President
Global Rankings, Outcomes Assessment, and the American System of Higher Education
Apr 20 2012

President Guiliano addresses university presidents and administrators in Nanjing, China, on the occasion of NUPT’s 70th anniversary -- and discusses American higher education, the 21st-century global university, and the evolution of outcomes assessment and university rankings.

Good afternoon. Xiao Wu hao. It is a pleasure to be among you and have this opportunity to share some thoughts.

I shared earlier today the notion that cultivating an atmosphere that supports cross-cultural collaboration is one of our hallmarks as global educators. Whether our partnerships are with government, industry, cultural organizations, hospitals, other universities, or consortia of several, and whether they are local, national or international, they will enhance the education and the workforce and citizenry of tomorrow.

This afternoon, I would like to share some answers to the following three questions:

  • First, how did higher education develop in America and what makes it distinctive?
  • Second, what is the global university and why is it so important for the 21st century?
  • And finally, what should we know and think about the evolving notion of outcomes assessment and university rankings?

I’ve spent most of my life in higher education and it’s a wonderful place.

But it hasn’t always been the same place. The Greek philosopher Heracleitus said, “You can’t step twice into the same river,” and that’s true of higher education as well. Yet for centuries, it was just barely true. Higher education was more like a fish tank than a river. Today, we not only step in the river, but we’re riding the current, and the voyage is exhilarating.

In the United States today, more than 20 million students attend college. Many parents now expect a college education for their children, and it is a precondition for a huge array of jobs in today’s knowledge economy. The best jobs demand professional degrees.

The phrase “knowledge economy” was once considered a business term. But it has expanded to mean so much more—an economy where creating and applying knowledge is central to creating wealth and benefits.

Human capital—the skills, knowledge, and abilities of individuals—fuels the knowledge economy. As you know, colleges and universities are essential for building human capital.

Ideas and research are not confined by borders; they flow freely around the world and provide opportunity for many people to advance, no matter where they live. So when we educate people with an eye toward developing global competence, as I’m proud to say we do at NYIT, our graduates are well-prepared to contribute to a knowledge economy that transcends all borders.

America’s Earliest Colleges

Just 200 years ago, college was an exotic realm. Instructors in the West actually taught in code. They used Latin, a language dead for over a thousand years. Higher education was costly, a world of the wealthy. And most scholars felt they were simply caretakers of information. Professors saw themselves as simply handing knowledge down from past to future.

Then came the shock of the 19th century. Modern market economies suddenly arose. So more people moved to cities Life was accelerating — very fast.

Higher education was changing too. In 1859, John Henry Cardinal Newman, a theologian from Great Britain, explained his idea of a university. Newman said a university was first a place for teaching universal knowledge; and second, a place where knowledge is created.

So those are the two main purposes of most modern universities: teaching and research – sharing knowledge and creating knowledge.

By 1900, fewer than 3 percent of all people between ages 18 and 24 attended college in America. And out of a total population of 76 million, only 382 got doctoral degrees. Virtually all were men, and they wouldn’t even fill a good-sized theater today.

American Higher Education In the 20th Century and Today

Things began to change in the 20th century. Science and technology expanded and the knowledge base grew.

Colleges stopped being just archives of knowledge. They are, as you know, now powerful generators of insight, of scientific findings, of breakthroughs that change our lives.

Notably, in the United States, the landscape of higher education is different from that in most other places, and the differences are illuminating.

About 3 out of 5 colleges in the U.S. are public, but the undisputed quality leaders in higher education—not just in America but in the world—are not-for-profit institutions of higher learning, like New York Institute of Technology. What are the great American universities in your mind? Harvard? Stanford? Like NYIT, they are not for profit. Yale, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, MIT? Not for profit. Columbia, NYU, Chicago, Brown, Dartmouth…all not for profit. And I could go on.

In the United States, the Department of Education has almost no power over them, except for funding research and giving out student loans. As a result, American higher education has evolved more freely. And it has specialized, like a growing economy, to solve specific problems.

Many people in China and elsewhere want to know, what is the ranking of universities. It is an odd question, really. I will return to this, but let me list the types of universities that characterize American higher education.

  • Research universities, both public and private.
  • Comprehensive universities, both public and private.

Then there are the small, liberal arts colleges that focus on undergraduate education in the broad sense. Some of these are simply the greatest colleges on earth, and would be outstanding choices for your sons and daughters—Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams, to name the three best known. They certainly do not figure in the world rankings of great universities; they are too small and do not grant advanced degrees.

A most distinguished category of American colleges is the community college. These offer two-year programs and many students continue at the other institutions when they finish at a community college. Almost half of all students in America attend them.

And finally, there are the specialized schools, especially those that focus on art or music or religion.

I should also add, to meet demand, there is an increasing class of for-profit universities that focus more on convenience than research, but the best do a creditable job, and the biggest university in America is in fact a trend-setting for-profit institution, the University of Phoenix.

In America, the government doesn’t set curricula and learning standards — it doesn’t even regulate these colleges. So, what ensures quality? It is not rankings, which are often biased and misleading. The answer is: private accreditation agencies. They set the standards and hold the reviews that good universities must meet.

My university, for example, seeks and gets accreditation in every accreditation field where we are eligible. We have dozens. Accreditations are the academy’s stamp of approval. Employers don’t value a degree from an unaccredited college.

The Global University

We are now in the age of education without borders. As economies interweave, colleges link them together as well. Students immerse themselves in a global university before going out into a globalized world. It’s an exciting phenomenon, and it has just begun.

  • My own university, New York Institute of Technology, has thought deeply about what it takes to be a premier global university in the century ahead. Here are key features of what I call a Tier 1 global university:
  • A single administration guides it and uses the same set of standards and outcomes everywhere.
  • Students, faculty, and ideas stream back and forth as if borders don’t exist.
  • Virtual or distance-learning classrooms unite students from all parts of the planet.
  • Many layers of perspective ensure that everyone respects local viewpoints, and that global understandings evolve.

So Tier 1 global universities create true citizens of the world. Their graduates have a deep and broad education, and they have connections with peers and faculty all across the planet.

NYIT – Modeling Globalism in the 21st Century

Defining a global university or global exchanges forces higher education to re-invent itself, to re-imagine its role in a greater society. Education is the currency that crosses borders and oceans…and brings solutions to civilization’s most complex challenges.

New York Institute of Technology is one university with two campuses in New York, one in the heart of Manhattan, and another in a suburb about 40 kilometers away. It is a great fortune to have New York as our location, and our first name.

At the same time, NYIT is a leader in worldwide education. We have programs, sites, and campuses globally … and virtually. Our 14,000—about half graduate students and half undergraduate students—come from 44 U.S. states and 109 nations. We are proud that students from around the earth choose to study at NYIT.

We are especially proud of our ties with China, which go back decades. We currently have 1,000 alumni living in China and more than 1,000 students with either Chinese or American origins studying in China. In New York, we are home to 300 students each year from China, including some who come to us in exchange or dual-degree programs. We often exchange professors and jointly participate in conferences.

No matter where our students live, they are part of NYIT. For some, that has meant incredible opportunities with international projects. Our architecture students, for example, flew to Cuba to help renovate historic buildings. We had students in New York, one from Long Island and one from Nanjing, working together creating for the Motorola Corporation a winning application for its prototype Golden-I computerized headset. Our Center for Global Health sends young doctors- and nurses-in-training to countries like Ghana, Haiti, Belize, and El Salvador, where they reduce suffering and save lives.

And as a global university, we link three strategies: We teach students to spot and solve real-world problems. We give them an interdisciplinary, team-oriented approach to challenges. And we train them to use technology in these tasks.

We have led by example—especially in conservation and energy management, green design, and global medicine.

For instance, in the past few years, Americans have seen the first hybrid electric cars on the roads. But our faculty and students were making them nearly 40 years ago. And just a few years ago, our students built a home totally powered by photovoltaic cells and hydrogen fuel cells. It now sits in a conservation park. It is the first solar-powered government building in our part of New York State.

We are growing what’s known as our STEM curriculum – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – because we know that these are vital to the knowledge economy and the jobs around the world in fields like energy technology, green industries, and applied science.

But as a global university, we are much else as well. We are:

  • A connected and networked community
  • A training ground for highly competitive careers in the global economy
  • A worldwide network for the free and wide flow of students, faculty, and research
  • A source of globally competent citizens

Many of the spectacular changes in higher education in America over the last decade began as offshoots of progress in technology: faster Internet access…more sophisticated communications software…stunning advances in mobile technologies.

A true global university can use technology to help great minds—wherever they are—collaborate. And in the next five years, we are sure to see many advances.

Rankings

Last month, I had a long meeting with a mayor of an important city in China, and like so many of my meetings in China, he asked a lot of questions about NYIT’s reputation and ranking. Who are our famous graduates? How much research dollars do we have? How many Nobel Prize winners are on our faculty? And what is our ranking?

In my opinion, they are the wrong questions to ask because they are not connected directly to needs and outcomes…or to students for the most part. If you ask where our School of Architecture and Design ranks, I’d say probably in the top 10 in America, but there are no reliable rankings I know of. Recently, we were cited as number 4 in America for building construction, but what does that mean or matter? How good is our medical school? Well, if you want to base your judgment on research dollars per student, probably Johns Hopkins is the top school and we are nowhere to be found. However, if you based your assessment on how many primary care physicians does the school have and has the school produced who are actually practicing medicine on patients day in and day out, then Johns Hopkins drops from view and NYIT moves to the very top of the list—probably number 1—because that outcome is aligned with our mission of producing practicing primary care physicians.

Ranks are, in many ways, comforting. They are supposed to let us see, almost at a glance, who is the best. We use them to compare and contrast, and we often take them for objective measurements that can inform our decisions and perceptions.

Yet are we really getting what we think we’re getting with worldwide college ranking systems? Just about a year ago, the European University Association issued a report on global university rankings and their impact. They noted that only about 200 – 500 universities—that’s between 1% and 3% of all of the world’s 17,000 universities—are covered by international rankings. They concluded that, unfortunately, the rankings tend to look inward rather than considering aspects outside of the university. On top of that, data isn’t always used consistently and many rankings don’t truly measure a crucial aspect of higher education: teaching quality and outcomes.

Rankings will not disappear, but how can we measure the true quality of research or teaching? If we choose not to rely on worldwide rankings, how should we determine the value of a particular institution’s education?

We can start by looking at a country’s economic needs and how its higher education system meets those needs. That’s an indicator that would have true value. Does the institution prepare good- and great-quality graduates for the jobs it already has and the jobs it projects for the future? And we need to look beyond borders to consider the global knowledge economy and the way our institutions are generating human capital that will meet its needs.

We might want to consider expanding the amount and type of institutions that are ranked, as well as the how we classify them. The key is that ranking systems must continue to evolve and improve based on careful evaluation of their impact on universities and higher education systems. That, in turn, will help make them more relevant to students, governments, and the institutions themselves.

Outcomes Assessment

Arguably more important than rankings and a much bigger and more recent shift in higher education in the 21st-century has been the demand for greater accountability and outcomes assessment. How do we know students are learning what we profess to be teaching them? How do we know a professor has met the educational goals and outcomes for the course he or she is teaching? How do we know his or her grade of A or B is the same as the professor’s across the hall or around the globe? What are the measures we have to prove our outcomes?

Certainly, there is an over-reliance by some on standardized tests, including those used to prove competency for graduate studies. Last time I looked, they did not measure some of the skills most associated with professional success: innovation, leadership, problem-solving, entrepreneurship, and the ability to work collaboratively, for example.

There is clearly a great deal more research, collecting data aimed at assessing the quality and effectiveness of what we have against the goals we have set in America today than just five years ago. And from what I can see, a great deal more than what is currently being carried out in China, though that will no doubt evolve in the coming decade.

Today, I am here in part celebrating the success of the NUPT-NYIT dual-degree program. But how can I say it is a success? What constitutes success? How might we rank it against all other dual-degree programs between Chinese and American universities? Or worldwide for that matter?

My university only graduates professionals: engineers, architects, physicians, computer graphic artists, and many more. That is a major component of our mission as a university. In America, most accreditations and assessments are aligned with that school’s mission. For us, the most important outcome measure, or at least the one we value most is: what percentage of our students have within six months of graduation a job in their chosen profession or are continuing their higher education in their chosen field?

For the last three years, in tough economic times, we have achieved an outcomes measure of 90%. Ninety percent is outstanding. If we were to rank medium- and large-sized American universities by such a metric, or universities around the world, the rankings would be completely different from any you have ever seen. And from a parents’ or students’ perspective, I suspect highly revealing and valuable.

Would you want to send your son or daughter to a school with a lesser success rate than NYIT’s? Or if you want your city to attract global businesses and grow the human capital to compete against sister cities regionally, national, and globally, wouldn’t the success rate of producing the professionals in the world force with requisite contemporary skills in the desired fields be of utmost importance?

How about the NUPT-NYIT dual degree program? How successful is it? How would you rank it?

Last June, we had our first graduates. I am proud to tell you that 98% accepted outstanding job offers or educational opportunities in China or the U.S. Almost any university you can name would envy that placement rate. That’s 98 percent! Our graduates secured business positions at top companies in China or the U.S., many on the Forbes and Fortune lists of largest companies. In fact, 55 different companies hired our graduates. The list includes some of the biggest companies in China or the U.S., including IBM, China Telecom, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Unicom, and China Mobile. And that’s at a time when the global economy has been a challenge for many seeking jobs. Those who didn’t immediately go to work at great companies have chosen to go onto graduate school. And they were accepted into the most prestigious graduate programs anywhere. They are at Columbia and Cornell, Duke and Johns Hopkins, Syracuse and UCLA — and NYIT — often with scholarships. In fact, 106 students were accepted into colleges or universities in the United States. And here’s another interesting fact about the 142 students going on to graduate school: almost 70% of that group — nearly 100 students – will study for graduate degrees in computer science or electrical and computer engineering. Columbia University alone took seven of our NUPT-NYIT students into their graduate program in electrical engineering.

So, if we are going to use such telling outcomes data as job and graduate school placements in rankings of colleges and universities, and in this particular case dual-degree programs, NUPT-NYIT’s program certainly has to be top ranked until some university provides better outcomes results, and that will be hard to do. I am just being a little provocative, but I hope you appreciate my largest points about the value of outcome assessment and rankings.

In my remarks this afternoon, I hope I have shown we’ve come a long way from the idea of the university as a storage house for knowledge. Now universities are literally animating the world with knowledge. And they are reaching out to regions scarcely explored 200 years ago, bringing information like aqueducts to the desert.

And we are preparing students for careers that do not yet exist. Technology is bringing wonders into our lives, disrupting industries, and reshaping our world. And in the global university we will be at the forefront of these advances. We will teach our students once unimaginable skills. And our students can remake the world.

Thank you.


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