Do you believe your own hype?

A recent U.S. survey has redefined patting yourself on the back, and it’s only going to hurt students

A recent study found that up to 90 per cent of grads at post-secondary institutions in the United States saw value in their education, and found that post-secondary education had prepared them well for the workforce. Up to 97 per cent of grads at some schools said that, while the school with the lowest approval was still a staggering 80 per cent.

Surveys like this are great when it comes to approving the status quo. Take a small group of campuses — in this case, only 22 — then have the study administered by a larger group of post-secondary institutions. Limit the survey to graduates — so as to prevent having the results influenced by dropouts and students who transferred out — and the self-selected group of universities will get glowing reviews from the students who succeeded most thoroughly from their education.

Strangely enough, these successful students — over a third of whom said that post-secondary institutions are adequately preparing their students for the workforce — also agreed that cost was not an issue in their education. They also advocated for deregulation of tuition, as more than half of the respondents said that it was up to the individual institution to keep tuition fees affordable, not the state or federal governments.

Surveys like this present obvious selection bias that endangers the future of post-secondary accessibility.

By leaving out future students, dropouts, transfer students and those who just couldn’t hack it, the study has by design omitted negative views, views that would require universities to examine themselves more carefully and become more inclusive.

By limiting the survey to graduates, the survey could also be picking up a kind of buyer’s remorse. The University of Brooklyn notes that psychological theory exists to support the idea:

“After making a purchase, a consumer is nervous about the brand choice especially if a great deal of effort and/or money is involved. The consumer will try to reassure herself that she made the right choice. She might pay more attention to the ads of the selected brand than brands she did not buy after the purchase as a means of reassuring herself that she made a good choice. Sometimes, post-purchase dissonance is referred to as buyer’s remorse.”

If there are some graduates who participated in this survey who were not confident about their choice of post-secondary education, this theory supports the idea that they could have become more supportive of their education over time.

This is not to say that there is no value in education. Not in the least. But there is room for improvement in many areas: accessibility, cost, job preparation and inclusiveness, to name a few. If surveys like this are the data that institutions are using to gauge their success, they are purposefully painting themselves a rose-coloured picture. It is both inaccurate and unfair.

The American Council on Education is right to conduct surveys to see where they stand in the world. But those surveys should be accurate and represent all students. They should not be self-pandering press release material that supports the status-quo.