Thursday, October 24, 2013

Still more on old school accreditation

More Howlers from Accreditation

By Professor Doom

Last time, I found a list of what was necessary for accreditation over a century ago:

1. follow respectable entrance requirements

2. offer courses selected from the classics

3. ensure a minimum of eight departments headed by full-time

instructors, each possessing at least a master’s degree

4. provide a good library

5. properly prepare students for post-graduate study

6. have a maximum class size of 30

7. have a productive endowment of at least $200,000.


The first four are a joke for modern institutions, which seldom have any requirements (much less “respectable”), have gutted offerings of “classic” knowledge, no longer need to have departments, and yet still have dusty libraries that are seldom used by students (for a variety of reasons, including the simple fact that books are cheap to acquire, and often available in electronic format).

 Maybe the other three requirements are still followed by accredited schools? Let’s look at two more:


5. properly prepare students for post-graduate study


Me in department head’s office, circa 1988.

Head: “I hear you skipped a section in your course.”

Me: “Yes, I ran out of time, and one class was cancelled because of that storm.”

Head: “Well now the instructor in the next class has students that don’t know what’s going on. You’re impacting the next class when you skip material.”

Me: “Sorry.”

Head: “Just don’t let it happen again.”


In times past, preparing students for more was a key part of education. Every course I took as an undergraduate led to another course, and in that course it was assumed I knew the previous material, so that the next course could build on it. This was no accident: accredited schools used to prepare students for more.

Administrative notice, 1999: “In one section of calculus, the instructor didn’t make it out of the first chapter. His section will be excused from the departmental final.”

--I was the chair for the calculus courses that year, so yes, this really happened. Because administrators no longer see the need to hire qualified faculty, instead hiring Education degree holders to teach any subject, this sort of thing happens a lot. A key course that covers 6 chapters of material only covered 1 from this guy…and he received praise for high retention instead of a firing for complete incompetence. I sure wish I didn’t have to keep saying “I can’t make this stuff up.”


The days where education means preparing students are long gone.   Now I consistently have students that literally covered nothing in the previous course. I consistently have to sit and watch praise and promotions heaped on Math Education degree holders for taking half or more of the material out of the course, and getting the all-important high passing rate that is the only measure of success administrators comprehend.


"That's why they come! As long as we give them good grades and a degree, their parents are happy too! Who cares if they can't reason?"

--President of fictional Walden College—not as fictional as it should be.


I emphasize, this is not my imagination. Very serious studies have shown that about half of college graduates have NO improvement in cognitive skills after 6 or so years of study (sic), despite their spiffy degrees and impeccable GPAs.
Student: "I have a 3.96 GPA, have taken all courses, but cant pas the Praxix. Can u help?"
--I do much tutoring, preparing students for various tests like the ACT on up. The Praxis is the test Education majors need to take to get their eventual teacher certification. It didn't matter that the student had a great GPA (better than mine ever was) from an accredited, state, brick-and-mortar school...her courses prepared her for nothing. I do my best, usually giving the A student just enough to just barely get a passing grade on what is a fairly straightforward test.

Part of the reason there is no learning is because emphasis now isn’t on preparation, it’s on marking time, filling rooms, and keeping students happy. Almost all coursework is an intellectual dead end, as this is what administrators want and are familiar with. Even the most advanced course in administration has no prerequisites. The reasoning is simple: the only students that would take “History 2” are those that took and passed “History 1”…that’s a smaller market. Administration just isn’t motivated to have courses prepare students for anything else, and I’ve seen many students with 100 credit hours of coursework that still have no actual skills, because all they know is introductory material anyone could learn in a few weeks.

Me: “We’re offering this as a 3 credit hour course. It’s a four hour course everywhere else, so students can’t transfer it anywhere.”

Administration: “So?”

Me: “We’re hurting our students by offering it. They take the course, but then are screwed if they go anywhere else, or try to apply their 2 year degree to getting a 4 year degree.”

Administration: “But as a 3 hour course, it makes it easier for them to get a full time load of 12 hours, which is important for their loans.”

Me: “But the course prepares them for nothing.”

Administration: “So?”

--Year after year, I tried to convince Admin to stop screwing students like this, to no avail.


Consider the implications here. Almost no institution today could even be accredited if this clause were still followed, because the mission of “prepare students” has been abandoned, replaced by the mission of “drain as much student loan money as possible.” This is not hyperbole, the research documents and supports my claim. But, there really was a time when legitimate institutions honestly thought key to education was preparing the student for more.

If an “educated” person is literally incapable of doing anything more than an “uneducated” person, is not even prepared to do anything more, what is education for?



6. have a maximum class size of 30


Admin: “We had to change the design of the new building, since the classrooms could only hold 27 students. Our fiscal model can’t support classes that small.”

--administrative explanation why only administrators would get offices in the new building.

I’m almost winded from laughing at this one. I’m teaching five classes this semester; every section has over 40 students. Once again, no school of today could be accredited if this clause were still used.

Now, I’ll grant you can totally teach 1,000 students as effectively as 30 students, at least if teaching were merely standing up at the board, going over topics and responding to questions. Unfortunately, there’s far more to teaching than that.

In order for students to gain skills, they need to practice them. The primary way to motivate students to practice skills is to give graded assignments. With a huge class, grading those assignments is grinding, time consuming work. It’s necessary work for a teacher, but when you factor in the administrative pressure to do less and less, simply not giving assignments in the first place is an obvious option.

So faculty, faced with ever larger classes, declining pay, and threats from admin to pass more students, make the easy decision to simply not assign as much work. Students don’t do as much, and hence don’t learn as much. Thus it is that so many of our college graduates have degrees, but no measurable skills.

Note how this is also an important example of how education cannot be simply defined to some specific thing. As soon as clause 5 was destroyed so that it no longer mattered if anyone was learning anything, clause 6 has no reason to exist either, and the reverse would be true as well, even though both clauses look completely unrelated.

The seventh and last clause appears to have nothing about education; I’ll consider it in more detail next time.

Until then, I repeat the question for consideration: these antiquated accreditation rules led to the United States creating a higher education system that’s the envy of the world. The rules have been surreptitiously changed, but do any of the old rules seems so obsolete that they shouldn’t be used anymore?

Think about it.

1 comment:

  1. Often I taught courses in which either had pre-requisites or had background material vital for what I was covering. Frequently, I had to take time to either review or actually teach concepts or techniques that should have been covered by the previous courses. (For example, I might have to teach basic high school trigonometry in order to teach vector algebra.) In some cases, I'm sure I spent up to 20% of my time teaching what should have been covered previously.

    It was frustrating for me during my early years of teaching. I often complained to whoever taught one of those previous courses and the best I could expect was a shrug of indifference. In other words, that person's failure became *my* problem and he or she didn't care.

    I eventually determined one reason why. My last department head told me not to worry about covering all the material in a given course. (Huh? Wasn't there something like a course outline that stated what had to be accomplished?) Instead, I was to concentrate on covering less but making sure the students knew the material well. If that course was a pre-requisite for another one, then the shortfall would become the problem of whoever taught it.