Daniel W. Drezner

The decline of Harvard and the return of COFHE

Between my junior and senior years at Williams College, I was an intern for the Office of the Provost. It was there I found out about the Consortium for Financing Higher Education (COFHE), a little-known organization of elite schools that pooled data on admissions, tuition, and the like. When I was working there, COFHE was ...

Between my junior and senior years at Williams College, I was an intern for the Office of the Provost. It was there I found out about the Consortium for Financing Higher Education (COFHE), a little-known organization of elite schools that pooled data on admissions, tuition, and the like. When I was working there, COFHE was twitchy about being subject to antitrust investigations, but that died down in the late eighties. As the COFHE website suggests, this is an organization that doesn’t really like to advertise its existence. I hadn’t thought about COFHE for at least a decade — until I saw this Boston Globe story by Marcella Bombardieri:

Student satisfaction at Harvard College ranks near the bottom of a group of 31 elite private colleges, according to an analysis of survey results that finds that Harvard students are disenchanted with the faculty and social life on campus. An internal Harvard memo, obtained by the Globe, provides numerical data that appear to substantiate some long-held stereotypes of Harvard: that undergraduate students often feel neglected by professors, and that they don’t have as much fun as peers on many other campuses. The group of 31 colleges, known as the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, or COFHE, includes all eight Ivy League schools, other top research universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, and small colleges like Amherst and Wellesley. ”Harvard students are less satisfied with their undergraduate educations than the students at almost all of the other COFHE schools,” according to the memo, dated Oct. 2004 and marked ”confidential.” ”Harvard student satisfaction compares even less favorably to satisfaction at our closest peer institutions.” The 21-page memo, from staff researchers at Harvard to academic deans, documents student dissatisfaction with faculty availability, quality of instruction, quality of advising, and student life factors such as sense of community and social life on campus. The raw data used in the memo come from surveys of graduating seniors in 2002, but are the most recent comparison available and are still consulted by Harvard administrators. On a five-point scale, Harvard students’ overall satisfaction comes out to 3.95, compared to an average of 4.16 for the other 30 COFHE schools. Although the difference appears small, Harvard officials say they take the ”satisfaction gap” very seriously. Only four schools scored lower than Harvard, but the schools were not named. (COFHE data are supposed to be confidential.) The memo also notes that Harvard’s ”satisfaction gap” has existed since at least 1994. On the five-point scale, Harvard students gave an average score of 2.92 on faculty availability, compared to an average 3.39 for the other COFHE schools. Harvard students gave a 3.16 for quality of instruction, compared to a 3.31 for the other schools, and a 2.54 for quality of advising in their major, compared to 2.86 for the other schools. Students gave Harvard a 2.62 for social life on campus, compared to a 2.89 for the other schools, and a 2.53 for sense of community, compared to 2.8.

I’m dying to know where the University of Chicago came out in those rakings. If the U of C — a place at which the logo “Where Fun Comes to Die” appears on many a t-shirt — ranks higher than Harvard in terms of satisfaction, then Harvard really has some catching up to do.

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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