Johns Hopkins faculty have been awarded funding for nine projects in the area of practical ethics, underway in 2016. The first recipients in the JHU Exploration of Practical Ethics program will examine a wide range of subject areas, including criminal justice, higher education, behavioral economics, and environmentalism.


Preliminary results from these nine projects will be presented in a symposium on January 24th, 2016. Leading up to this event, our Amelia Hood spoke to each project team to learn more about their work in practical ethics.


Link for more information on the Exploration of Practical Ethics symposium, and free registration (open now).



Erik Helzer, PhD, and Andrew Talle, PhD, have been awarded funding by the JHU Exploration of Practical Ethics program for their project titled “Understanding the Ethics and Value of Higher Education: When is Specialized Training ‘Worth It’?” Dr. Helzer, from the Carey Business School, and Dr. Talle, of the Peabody Institute, are collaborating to develop a framework for understanding the ethical commitments of educational organizations that provide specialized training in fields where stable job opportunities are sparse and future pecuniary rewards are uncertain, and to administer a broad survey of Peabody alumni assessing the perceived value of their education. The proposed project is an exciting opportunity to develop metrics of educational value that are not easily summarized by quantitative methods, and to apply ethics to practical questions that are of interest to scholars, education administrators, policy makers, and citizens.


Here, Drs. Helzer and Talle answer our questions about their project.



What inspired this project?


We decided to embark on this project because of a mutual interest in the ethical implications of highly specialized training. Students at Peabody and many other institutions invest so much money and time cultivating skills which are not always valued in the world outside the academy. We want to know what drives them, and whether the ethical obligations of institutions vary according to the job prospects of their students and alumni.


What is the current understanding of the ‘value’ of an education or a college degree, especially in the arts?


Success in most fields is measured in monetary terms—that is, how much money alumni earn 5, 10, or 15 years after graduation. While Peabody students want financial stability, they choose to devote tuition dollars and countless hours in secluded practice rooms perfecting skills that are not always or even usually associated with the accumulation of significant wealth. We want to better understand the varied ways that they measure success.


Is this issue new, or have arts educators (or educators in other subjects in which the value of education is questioned) been dealing with it for a long time?


The issue itself is old. Musicians throughout history have rarely been compensated highly for their highly specialized skills. But the recognition of this phenomenon as a subject for research in its own right is new. There is very little literature on the subject and we feel confident that our project will be a very significant contribution.


Tell us more about how you see the ethical obligations that educators have to their students.


The bond between studio teachers and students is extremely powerful. Following an apprenticeship tradition that dates back centuries, Peabody undergraduates spend four peak years of their lives learning to cultivate extremely subtle skills. The process is physical and emotional in equal measure and by the end teachers often know their pupils as well as their parents and closest friends know them. Peabody teachers feel a strong obligation to see their students succeed, but success is rarely defined by finances. It is defined rather in terms of personal development, engagement with others, and myriad other measures we are just beginning to understand.


How will the results of the survey be implemented to increase the value of a Peabody education for students?


Peabody has a strong interest in our research because it can give the institution a sense for how it is perceived by alumni. We would like to know whether graduates feel they received what they hoped to receive by attending Peabody. What experiences were most valuable? How can the school improve? We are also eager to learn how alumni themselves perceive the ethical obligations of the institution now that they themselves are out in the world making careers for themselves.



For more on the JHU Exploration of Practical Ethics Program

Save the Date — Exploration of Practical Ethics Program Symposium

Tuesday, January 24, 2017, 2:00pm – 5:00pm

Feinstone Hall, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Open to All | Free Registration Will Open Soon.



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2 Responses to “Understanding the Ethics & Value of Higher Education”

  1. […] for the JHU’s Exploration of Practical Ethics grant program. Their research project, titled Understanding the Ethics and Value of Higher Education: When Is Specialized Training “Worth It”?,  examined alumni surveys to discover that Peabody alumni, though more likely to earn lower […]

  2. […] Understanding the Ethics and Value of Higher Education: When is Specialized Training “Worth It… Erik Helzer, Carey Business School, and Andrew Talle, Peabody Institute […]

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