Graduation Return on Investment sends wrong message

(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)
(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)

Last semester, Oswego State introduced the Oswego Graduation Return on Investment (ROI), a policy that promises a $300 refund to students who graduate in four years or less. The refund falls under a larger umbrella of promises the college has proudly made as a “commitment to excellence and educational value,” but I can’t help but think that this new policy, unlike the others, was an unwise promise to make.

When I first read about the new refund, I was struck by how overtly the policy neglects students who enter college not knowing what to do with their lives. Traditionally, college is supposed to be the place where they figure this out, but any genuine exploration is exactly what the ROI seems to discourage.

We all know it’s both unrealistic and unfair to ask incoming freshmen, most of whom have only just graduated high school, to decide on what career they would like to pursue. Yet the timeline of decision-making for which the ROI provides an incentive to follow is clear: choose once, choose quickly, and from then on, keep your head down and  push forward.

As I near the conclusion of my fourth year of college, it’s clear to me that I won’t be getting the $300 refund. I’m not bitter about this though. If I had remained on the rails on which I started, I never would have indulged my curiosity of whether I’m any good at science, and I most certainly would not be on course to go to medical school. And that would be a shame.

It’s disheartening to think that the Oswego State would rather I had stuck it out with my first major and never looked up to see whether I was on the right course. It’s even worse to imagine someone who will look back on an unfulfilling career with regrets about a fateful decision he was pressured into at eighteen.

Yet it is not only those like me that are snubbed by this policy. Students who have to choose between taking out loans and working while going to school for more than the traditional four years are encouraged by the ROI to pick the former option. This buries graduates under piles of debt, sure to generate interest payments that alone will dwarf the $300 refund.

Oswego State seems intent on a marketing degree as a low-priced, quality education––a smart move at a time when people are questioning the value of a college degree in a poor job market. But if Oswego State was really committed to keeping up with the times, the ROI would not have undermined the growing number of people that choose to work while attending college part-time.

I do think it is a good idea to provide a financial incentive to graduate. I don’t think, however, that it makes sense to reward this achievement only when it is done fast. We shouldn’t urge students to sprint through college. Why not just reduce the refund and reward every graduate, even if the paths to their degree had some detours and hurdles?