The College Puzzle Blog
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Dr. Michael W. Kirst

Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University since 1969.
Dr. Kirst received his Ph.D. in political economy and government from Harvard. Before joining the Stanford University faculty, Dr. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty. He was a former president of the California State Board of Education. His book From High School to College with Andrea Venezia was published by Jossey Bass in 2004.

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My blog discusses the important and complex subjects of college completion, college success, student risk factors (for failing), college readiness, and academic preparation. I will explore the pieces of the college puzzle that heavily influence, if not determine, college success rates.

Search Engines May Hinder College Success (Part 2 in a Series)

Howard Block writes equity research on education companies for Banc of America Securities. He is one of my former PhD students.

Block’s prior work under me has lent him a somewhat unique perspective on equities. He recently wrote a lengthy report on the dangerous combination of search advertising and college admission. Its theme dovetails quite nicely with my work on K16. I referenced Block’s report in an earlier post. This entry references that report again.

Block’s report mentioned that another even less frequently cited factor for the high dropout rates is that there are simply too many students in schools. Charles Murray touched on this in the midst of his fabulously insightful three-part series of Op-Ed pieces that ran earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal (1/1607: “Intelligence in the Classroom”, 1/17/07: “What’s Wrong With Vocational School?”, 1/18/07: “Aztecs vs. Greeks”).

One of Murray’s several, compelling assertions is that there are far too many people going to college. Murray’s basic point is that too many college students lack the ability to benefit from college and thus are wasting their time and their resources not to forget, in many cases, taxpayer and parental resources.

Murray believes that a college education makes sense for only 15%-25% of the population. However, Block’s report takes it further by arguing that one reason for too many people going to school is the ease with which those prospective students can carelessly enlist Search engines to help them make the decision of enrolling in college. Block argues that far too many students – prospective and otherwise – use search engines to answer two questions:
1. Should I go to college?
2. And where should I go to college?

And, too frequently, search engines are used indiscriminately – whether it is to answer “yes” or “no” to the first question or whether it be to select a college (the second question).

Relying on a search engine is as random and arbitrary as perhaps using the yellow pages to determine which plumber to unclog your sink. Did you pick the plumber with:
The biggest ad?
The friendliest sounding name?
The address closest to your home?
Or, did you pick the one who answered his phone first? An increasing volume of college students are taking a random walk through search engines in contrast to the paradigm of the traditional college student: A high school junior or senior who sought constructive advice through conversations and exchanges with his or her family, friends, high school counselors and trusted advisors.

The Internet makes it too easy by tempting prospective college students with what sounds like the right answer.

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