Wednesday, September 16, 2015


An Amazing Dissertation Topic for Any Ed.D. Students Out There…

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re in a position to make position allocation decisions for part of a community college.  You have enough funding to cover a few positions, but far fewer than you would like, so some departments will have to be disappointed.  And let’s say that you’re focused on student success, and actually trying to do the right thing.

How do you compare the return on investment of, say, a full-time librarian as against a full-time professor?  To keep the question simple, let’s assume that the salaries are roughly equal.  And I’ll assume that both are positive influences.

At a really basic level, the cost of each could be measured against replacements, whether hourly staff in the library or adjuncts for the faculty.  But the cost side isn’t really the tricky part.  It’s weighing the benefit to the institution of one as against the other.

How would you quantify the benefit of each?

As a nonprofit, I’m not only looking at the fiscal benefit.  Does one have a greater impact on student success than the other?

I’m looking for a few things:

I can’t be the first administrator to wonder about this.  I’m guessing that the first person to come up with a useful method for answering the question will be very well received.

So, quantitative scholars of higher education, the gauntlet is thrown.  How would you measure the ROI of one against the other?

I know how we justify the investment in our full-time and part-time staff in our tutoring center. We collect a lot of data. I don't know if we collect similar information about interactions between students and research librarians, but it wouldn't surprise me that we do. The data clearly show an ROI.
Both positions have to be evaluated to determine the potential each has to positively effect the "quadruple bottom line" of recruitment, retention, completion, and placement in degree-related employment (or matriculation into related higher level degree pathways). The one who can move the needle farthest gets the funding.
I'm thinking along similar lines. I'm looking at college enrollment for my data and then working backwards. If we take the last 4 or 5 years of graduates, take the ones that say, got into the best colleges, look at their transcripts and see what kinds of courses and activities led to that outcome. I'm also interested to see if there's a difference in terms of when someone enrolls. Is earlier better. And like Bear said above, I could get past the college years and look at employment.
Okay, well, there are a couple of minor quantitative flaws with the model you propose above, the first of which is that it's extremely unlikely that the librarian's salary will be the same as the professor's. At no place where I've worked do librarian salaries -- even when librarians are considered tenure-stream faculty -- come close to keeping pace with faculty salaries.

The second is that while (some) full-time tenure-stream faculty work can be replaced by adjuncts, the equivalent replacement for full-time librarians with "hourly staff" doesn't hold, as hourly staff in libraries generally don't have the same graduate training (the MLS) that professional librarians do, and perform very different job functions. (There is, confusingly, such a thing as an "adjunct librarian," however.)

But those aren't really the interesting parts of your question and argument. For those, I might point you to the Value of Academic Libraries project:
Much more information is needed to address this question, and not just the traditional data on enrollment, retention, and completion. I would start with the following questions:
1. How are we defining student success?
2. What are the greatest challenges at our college to improving student success?
3. How can each of these positions help us address those challenges?

The program in which you are looking to add a professor would be a factor as well as the particular skills that person would bring to the position. For example, at a community college trying to improve student success in technical programs where students are struggling with math, a math instructor who teaches using application-based instructional strategies could have a tremendous impact while just any old math instructor may or may not help improve student success in technical programs.

The same goes for a librarian. Will you hire a more traditional librarian or a librarian who wants to emphasize the use technology to support student learning?

I see this as more qualitative than quantitative. Answer these questions and the choice should become clear.

Here be dragons. Assessing library service with data that honors the soft-skill nature of the best librarianship, and is also widely accepted within the profession as a valid marker of a librarian’s contribution to student success, isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Too often it happens that library performance data acceptable to the school’s higher administration is gathered from activities that are easily quantifiable, but have little in common with very high levels of service. The same is probably true of classroom instruction.
Using weak but acceptable data to compare the relative contributions of the two positions and then sending the loser to the chopping block on the strength of it will look like just that to whichever department comes in second place in this contest.
Actually, there are two second place contestants here: The department that doesn’t get the full-time position, and the administrator making the decision. The high tolerance for ambiguity that helped him or her get the job in the first place will get a good workout.

That partly depends on how many you have of each.

If you have 50 profs and 2 librarians, you'll notice the lack of a librarian first.
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