Why Consultants Need to Get the Hell Out of College

The Wall Street Journal had a hilarious story today about a new college ranking developed by Boston Consulting Group:

How far do they have to go? At the Boston Consulting Group, we have developed a new ranking to determine the educational competitiveness of countries: the BCG E4 Index. It is based on four Es: Expenditure (the level of investment in education by government and private households); enrollment (the number of students in the educational system); engineers (the number of qualified engineers entering the workforce), and elite institutions (the number of top global higher-education institutions).

As those who read this blog occasionally, I often blast statistics that have no meaning, as well as quantitative analysis that tries to take complex and complicated topics and turn them into a single number. Among the worst culprits of this are management consultants, particularly when they move out of areas of business that have relatively standard metrics for performance.

Just listen to this ranking. The number of engineers? Pure expenditure? Elite institutions? This has all the hallmarks of a committee going around the room and belching out any random thought that they can find.

Here is what matters: We need high-quality and accessible education at every tier in the talent pipeline. We need a diverse set of schools including elite universities, well-funded state colleges and universities, community colleges, trade schools, technical institutes and apprenticeships. Diversity and breadth here are very important, and seem to be completely missing from this index.

But the thing that angers me is the focus on engineering. Yes, there is a deficit of people entering computer science disciplines based on the current labor statistics. But, the economy is not built with just engineers. Rather, the strength of an economy comes from so many different sources, including science majors (which apparently don't get included), history and English majors (communication folks), education majors (to actually teach the next generation how to function), and everything else in between. It is about balance.

We need less of these pointless metrics, and much more attention to be focused on the real policy problems facing schools. There is a complex legal and social environment that teachers have to operate in, and rather than just whitewash the whole system to a simple number, we should begin to focus on individual students and classrooms to see how different types of students have outcomes in our system. Now that would be a point of comparison between countries.