Saturday, January 18, 2014

End the Games of Higher Education




By Professor Doom

Me, as a college student, whining: “How come you will only let me sign up for two electives?”
Advisor: “Because we want you to graduate in four years.” (which I, and many of my friends of the time, did).


     It used to be that going to college was a plan, and students were expected to choose a major within a semester or two of arriving on campus. Changing majors was allowed, but required the signing of forms and getting permission. It was not done frivolously.

     This was back when institutions acted with integrity. Institutions realized that high school graduates were still quite young, and needed direction and good advice. Thus, there were policies making it very difficult for a student to spend half a dozen years wandering through dozens of introductory courses and a handful of majors before finally settling on a “General Studies” degree. Students went to advisors, who kept them from wasting time.


Student, in tears: “But you have to pass me through College Algebra. I need this course to graduate, and I don’t have any more loan money left. It’s not my fault I don’t know any of this, I haven’t seen it since high school!”
Me:  “This is an introductory course. You are supposed to take it your first semester. Why did you wait six years?”
--Nearly every year I have such an exchange with a student. Typically, students in this position have taken 4 or more years to get a 2 year degree, with a 2.01 GPA. A question I never ask, but should, is “Why is my introductory level, freshman high school, course so much more difficult than the most advanced college courses in your degree?”


      Administrators, void of integrity and feeling no responsibility to the young in their care beyond fleecing them as thoroughly as possible, changed the policies. Now students can sign up for basically any courses they want, whenever, regardless of whether the courses lead to a degree. A student can withdraw from courses repeatedly, delaying his education and making it easy for him to blow off semester after semester, rather than develop the real skill of working hard when it’s time to work hard. These changes in policies certainly went a long way to supporting bloated campuses and bloated administrative salaries, but have obviously harmed and taken advantage of the weaknesses of a great many young students—the latter issue only a concern for those acting with integrity.

      With “protect the young” discarded for “grab more loot” every time, it’s no wonder that typical students take 6 years or more to get a 4 year degree. Educators clearly need to have more influence in administrative policies, more influence than even that which needs to be given through accreditation. But first we’ll go through more easy fixes to higher education.

     So, again, the fixes here are easy. Instead of the “infinite drop” policy we have now, a student can only drop a course three times at a university. That’s what the rule was for most of the previous century, and back then we didn’t have most students taking 6 or more years to get a degree, along with many thousands of dollars of debt.

     We also need to scale back all the elective and introductory courses, or at least the capacity to take them (which ultimately is the same thing). Maybe the 6 credit hours I was allowed was too small, but the 120 credit hours allowed now (or so it seems) is too much. After a certain number of hours (30? That’s over a year, enough time for people to make a decision), a major must be picked, and courses going towards that major need to be taken. The old “student advisor” system needs to come back, making it impossible for students to register for classes without that advisor approval. I know, it’s so easy to register online in today’s system, but so many students, our young people, have been screwed over by that system that it’s time to acknowledge getting rid of adult supervision was a bad idea. Again, this will help to end the “six year degree” student that is so common on campus. Students can still change majors…but it needs to be for a better reason than “I can only pass Psych courses,” which is why there are so many Psych majors today.


“159,645”
--this is the number of waiters and waitresses with a college degree, up 81% over the last decade. The number of janitors with college degrees is up 87%. You want to bet some of those degrees were in questionable fields like Diversity, Urban Studies, and Communication? You want to bet some of these poor fools are in debt for those degrees? You want to bet they’ll be making payments on those debts for the rest of their lives? I do.

     Will these simple reversions to the working system of times past cause students to drop out, with no degree (i.e., “nothing”)? Sure, but this isn’t a bad thing, since most of these drop outs would otherwise spend years on campus, getting deeper in debt and learning nothing, gaining no useful skills at all, and, at best, getting a worthless degree that is good for nothing outside of getting a job as a janitor or waiter.

     It used to be, “some college” meant something on a resume, but with open admission colleges the norm, obviously having gone to college today means nothing—possibly even less than nothing, since it’s such a foolish idea for most people.  


     So end the “open admission” game, admit it’s a failure, and bring back entrance examinations; again, this is just a reversion to how it used to be. Different schools can have different levels of examinations, but having seen the mentally disabled exploited by administrators, I think even a small examination might help keeping these latter from being exploited into a lifetime of debt to enhance administrative salaries.  This may seem discriminatory, but if a prospective student can’t be bothered to study for an entrance exam, maybe academia isn’t the right choice for that student? How did that idea not occur to anyone?

     For the most part, I’ve proposed mindlessly simple fixes, but I do want to at least propose one fix that’s more clever than “go back to the way that we know works,” which summarizes much of what I’ve said so far. Next time.