Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ohio State is #1

Well it's official, Ohio State is #1. I'm not talking about the BCS rankings, though OSU should certainly be congratulated about that, even this early in the process. No, I am talking about the numbers being released for the size of enrollment at universities, and OSU came in at the top of the heap. Associated Press just released the numbers, and Ohio State has 52,568 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. The University of Florida at Gainesville was second, with 51,876; and Arizona State University at Tempe was third, with 51,481. Being the top school in enrollment is a laudable accomplishment. Much like the days when Ohio claimed to be the state fair with the largest attendance however, I wonder how much meaning it really has. I will tell you two things that do strike me about the release of these numbers though:
  1. Providing education on this grand scale does not appear to allow OSU to provide a volume discount or achieve any efficiencies of scale. Normally, one would expect that the larger the group served, or the more something is being done, the less expensive it would become to produce the item or provide the service. Evidently education does not fall under that standard business model. Of course I'm sure that such things as tenure for professors, sabbaticals, countless teaching assistants, and constant new building projects have nothing to do with this. Neither does appear to affect the university's ability to suckle at the teat of state and federal grants and funding, and to ask for more every year both from government and in the form of tuition from its students.
  2. I saw nothing in the press release about how OSU fares in it's graduation rates, either in comparative percentage or in simple raw number comparisons. Perhaps it's enough that we manage to pack students into the campus, and concerning ourselves as to whether these students graduate with a degree is too much to ask.
Don't get me wrong, I am not unhappy that so many people have decided that Ohio State University is the best place in the country to pursue their education. I lived near the university for years, and even had a son who attended OSU; though he did not finish his education there, citing "getting lost in the crowd" as one of the reasons. I can't help but wonder what these numbers really mean in the end however. Does being the biggest school mean being the best? 


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