Too Much Choice?

March 26, 2011

Yesterday, the Economix blog in the New York Times ran an interesting piece by Judith Scott-Clayton, an Assistant Professor at Teachers College, Columbia, called “The Dark Side of Choice in Higher Education.”

We often laud the benefits of giving students more choice to shape their own educational programs, hoping and expecting that greater choice will help them find greater meaning in their education and boost their motivation.

Against these claims, she argues that “Work by psychologists and behavioral economists, however, demonstrates the dark side of too much choice. Cognitive overload, poorly defined preferences and imperfect self-control can lead to procrastination, decision mistakes and dissatisfaction with the choice that is ultimately made.”

One psychologist whose work she references is Barry Schwartz, professor of psychology at Swarthmore, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (2005).

She points to some new programs that seek to provide more structure (and less choice) for students, and some other initiatives that allow greater choice but provide much more guidance in making choices through better coaching, mentoring and advising.  “Colleges could also help students navigate their options,” she argues, “by providing more frequent and better advising, rather than waiting for students to ask for help.”


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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