Monday, August 12, 2013

How to Count?

This may sound crass, but it’s actually an essential exercise.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you have only enough money to pay for one of the following positions:

a. a librarian
b. a professional tutor
c. a academic advisor

Further, for the sake of argument, let’s say that future funding is contingent, in part, on improved student retention and graduation rates.  

And just to make things interesting, let’s say that you’re actually trying to be fair, and there isn’t a sufficiently obvious imbalance in staffing among the areas to make the decision a no-brainer.  It’s actually a tough call.  So ideally, you’d like to make the decision based on some sort of evidence-based idea of which would make the most difference for students.

How would you decide?  I’m not asking which one you would pick.  I’m asking what would count as criteria.  How, exactly, would you quantify the marginal impact on retention and graduation rates of one more librarian, tutor, or advisor?

(To keep things realistic, let’s rule out the “controlled experiment” approach, since it would require a time machine.  I’m hoping to find a method that could work in the real world.)

Has anyone out there seen, used, or figured out a reasonably accurate way to measure the marginal impact of positions like these against each other?