Trying to figure out the value of a postsecondary program is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. Before I invest in a program, I want to know its track record. I want outcomes, documented in neat and tidy columns. But of course no one will guarantee outcomes, will they? After all, every student is unique, so it may be asking too much to expect unified outcomes for all. When I consider the outcomes I want for Cameron, I find myself wondering how those outcomes might be measured at the conclusion of programming. How do you measure the value of learning to live outside the protective cover of a mother bird’s wing? Will the experience enable Cameron to earn more income as he finds permanent employment? Is there a way to measure projected earning potential before completing a program versus after completion? Even if there are “employment” statistics on a program, what is the definition of “employment”? Would Cameron’s eight hours per week of earning minimum wage earn him a check in the “employed” box?
I have resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to have to rely on mother’s instinct when it comes to assessing the value of a program. My instincts tell me that Cameron will be a success story wherever he winds up this fall. When Cameron exits the postsecondary phase of his education, I’d say it’s a safe bet that the program will view Cameron as an asset in their “look what our students are doing now” marketing data. But will the feeling be mutual? Will it be worth it in the end? If Cameron is better prepared to live on his own—even if he can’t financially swing it—I’d call it a success. If Cameron can find full-time employment and quickly earn more than minimum wage, I’d call it a success. If I were to look for a program that had data supporting that level of outcome for the majority of their students, I don’t think I’d be successful in my search. Outcomes don’t really matter except when they are the outcomes for Cameron. Unfortunately, outcomes can’t be measured until the “end,” and Santa has not delivered that crystal ball I keep asking for year after year. So we’re back to mother’s instinct being the best judge of value.
It feels odd to suddenly relinquish my grip on the “Show me the outcomes!” banner I’ve been waving for so many years. I’m not giving up on outcomes all together. I just realize that expectations will change for each individual. Even if there were verifiable outcomes available for every program out there, there’s no guarantee that the outcome will be success for everyone. It would be nice if that were the case, but it would also be nice if Santa would finally leave me that crystal ball. I guess a mother’s instinct coupled with a program run by qualified, caring individuals is the next best thing.