Thursday, August 22, 2013

Two classes predict failure as a college student.

I'm not one for chain letters, but imagine if this were spread around so that everyone knew the scam...

Two Classes Predict Failure As A College Student

By Professor Doom

Just a short essay today, but this is an absolutely critical message. Across the country, classes are starting up, students are enrolling, and new debts are beginning to grow. Even though student debt is crushing and inescapable, people do this to themselves because they figure education is a chance to improve themselves, or their economic situation.

Just a chance. What if there was a better than 90% accurate test to tell if higher education was a bad idea?  Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to identify if someone should risk years of his life and tens of thousands of dollars for that chance? There is such a test, it’s been known to everyone in higher education for years, and allow me to present it to the general public. If you, your child, or even someone you know is a student taking on debt for higher education, here is all you have to do to test if the student is making a huge mistake:

Look at all the classes the student registered for. Look for one of two courses:

1)      Remedial Math. It might be given a funny name, like “Developmental Math”, or “Math Explorations”, but usually the course is numbered with a 0 in front of it, like 0091, or 004 (three or four digits, but the first is a zero).

2)      Remedial English. Same deal, the course number starts with a 0.

These courses don’t count for college credit (that’s what the 0 means, it’s a 0th year course, meaning below a first year college course). A student taking one of these courses is a remedial student. If either of these is on the schedule, do everything you can to get the student out of college as quickly as possible. If the student is taking both classes, physically drag him or her off campus if necessary. If you do so in the first few weeks of classes, you can get a good refund.

The reason you should get your remedial student out is simple:

Less  than 10% of remedial students will get a 2 year degree within 3 years. That statistic comes from looking at millions of students. The vast majority of remedial students will require 2 or more extra years (i.e., pay 50% more) just to have a chance at a degree...and coursework without a degree is worthless.

Even if the remedial student somehow graduates, it’s been shown that these students disproportionately learn less than other students...their degrees are worthless. Paying 50% more for a worthless degree is a terrible deal, but that’s the only deal for remedial students.

A student needs to function at basically the 10th grade level to have a real chance at college (yes, I know, high school goes to the 12th grade, but higher education starts at 10th grade material for many). If the student isn’t at that level by the time he’s 18, his chance of real success in higher education is zero, and he will only be taken advantage of by ruthless college administrators.

And now you know a 90% accurate test to tell if someone should stay away from college.

Now, some advice for the remedial student determined to succeed at college.

First, drop out. You’re hurting yourself taking (and paying for) non-college courses in college. That’s a terrible thing to do.

Next, go down to the local library, check out the books you need for remedial English or math, and STUDY and practice the skills until you know those books inside and out. You don’t need someone with graduate theoretical degrees to teach you what you should have learned in school...and you sure don’t need to pay \$5000 or more a year (plus lost wages) for the privilege of having someone teach you that stuff.

If your college says you belong in remedial courses, go to the library, check out those books, and do the work. If you can’t learn the things 14 year olds know on your own, then college is a bad idea. The library is a much cheaper way to find that out than in college.

Almost twice as many people have student loans as there are students, that’s how inescapable these loans are. I hope my advice can save even a few people from entering perpetual debt, for nothing.

1. I want to share my story to give hope to students who read this dismal post. At the age of 25, after realizing that my career as a rock musician was not going far, I decided to apply to my state's largest and arguably most prestigious university--it was an old AAU member institution. I was a high school drop out who got his GED and spent a couple of years in junior college to gain a vocational diploma, but I had always got good grades. I was told I could not be accepted, because I did not have transferring credit for "College Algebra" on my junior college transcript, so I lied and told them I was taking it at the local community college that summer. I got accepted!

I intended to faithfully take the CC class as I said I would and was told I would have to take placement tests. As I worked through the exam, I reached a point where I was totally at a loss. I did not know how to differentiate equations, so I was told I would need to take "Math 95." Well, that's not college algebra, nor is it the prereq for college algebra--it was the prereq for the prereq for college algebra! I asked why I needed to take two remedial classes, before taking the class I needed . That was for my own good, I was told, so I would be prepared. I argued that I failed on the calculus portion only and that was simply because I had never taken calculus! I told the CC advisor that I would take my chances and would work hard to pass so I could go to the University. Nope. She said I needed to spend another year in a junior college. I said I've already spent a lot of time in a JC and I was ready to move on to the Univ., to which I was already accepted. No. I would have to go next year. I walked off the community college campus angry and defiant.

That fall I enrolled at the university and took Math 251--Differential Calculus--four classes above the course I tested into at the JC. After each class, I would go straight to the library and practice the problems in the book and each week I went to see the tie-dye wearing doctoral student who was the teaching assistant for the class in his math lab. It was hard and a bit scary at first, but I got a B+. Next semester I put the same effort into integral calculus and got an A-! Then came the phone call. The registrars office wanted to talk to me about the junior college credit that was missing. I made up some excuse for why I didn't take it, but pointed to my transcript in hand that showed I went straight to calculus and was doing very well (the year of calculus at this school was not easy--sort of a weeding-out requirement for pre-engineering and pre-business majors). Requirement was satisfied. Next semester I finished Math 253 with a perfect A. I got accepted into my major program and earned a BS and a BA in another major, then got recruited by a blue chip company and moved to the Silicon Valley. I lived frugally and paid off my \$30,000 of debt within a couple of years. Years later I was accepted to a well-regarded evening MBA program at one of the nearby state universities and graduated cum laude.

The moral of this story is that many students don't fail because they are too dumb, they fail because the quality of high school and junior college education fails them. In a quality institution a student willing to do the hard work to learn can be successful. I left high school because it was a boring, miserable experience, just like much of junior college was. Once I got to that 120 year old campus and was inspired by the history, surroundings, faculty, and peers I began to fall in love with education for the first time in my life and was successful.

2. That's an inspiring message, and really reinforces my point: remedial classes are a deathtrap. The material in them can be mastered by a student in a couple of weeks, not a year, and yet college admin has forced us to drag it out endlessly to "increase retention".

1. About what you just said there, it reminds me of what I saw in a College Algebra/Trig text book once regarding their algebra review chapter: they said that review could be utilised at the beginning or as a Just-In-Time review during the class once specific topics are needed, should they be needed. Perhaps that Just-in-Time style may be a better way to deal with covering some material that may have been forgotten rather than having student stake entire courses going on for months then perhaps forgetting some of it anyway once they get to precalc & beyond? Seems like it makes sense.

Of course institutions wouldn't like that as it would actually save students money. ;-)

2. Oh, "Just in Time" delivery has been tried. It's an iffy thing, and it's really used as a way to lower standards further. Since the material is "just in time", the professor knows only to use it in the most superficial way. It also hurts the student--why learn anything, since it'll just be provided "just in time" later on.

And, of course, if you're just-in-time-ing everything, then that's that much less time to cover the actual course material. It's a sneaky way to take material out of a course.

The end result? Student walk away from Just-In-Time courses with less than they would otherwise (and that includes both weak students, and the students that are actually there to learn) and with the understanding that they really don't have to learn anything anyway.

Just-in-time, as you might expect, does help with pass rates, so it's popular.

The evidence that it's not working can be seen in the studies that show college students are not measurably more capable after 4 years of college than when they just left high school, and in the many 4.0 (or so) GPA students that can't pass Praxis tests, which only test basic knowledge.

3. You can't even count on 100-level courses not being remedial these days. Honestly even though College Algebra, Trigonometry, & Precalculus are labelled as college material, good enough high schools cover it, with proper university classes starting with Calculus 1 (IIRC Drexel & UPenn will not accept any calculus credit that was acquired in high school, no matter how rigorous - all students must either start at or test out of the university's Calculus 1 class at the university). Also, my institution, Philly's community college, just changed the remedial terms again from this autumn from developmental to foundational - this covers their 016 & 017 maths classes: arithmetic & elementary algebra.