17.1.09

THE WRONG KIND OF HIGHER EDUCATION. Market Power points to Captain Capitalism's story of work in a diploma mill.

The first sign of trouble came when I issued the first quiz, of which 85% of the students failed. It wasn't an issue of the quiz being difficult or hard. It wasn't an issue of me being a mean teacher. The quiz was of an average difficulty and any student paying attention would have passed it. However, upon grading the quizzes I realized just what a low caliber of students I was dealing with and made the egregious error of deciding not to LOWER the standards to them, but to have them RISE to my standards and thereby teach them something.

Complaints flooded into my boss about the test being too difficult, they didn't have enough time to study, "by god I have two children and can't study this much" etc. etc. And sure enough, at the age of 27, I was called into the office.

My boss explained to me that we are here to challenge the students, but not too much. That my test was unfair and I should consider tailoring it more to their skill level. Of course with hindsight I now see what the charlatan of a dean was telling me; "Dumb it down because we're fleecing these kids for their money for a worthless degree and if you rock the boat we'll lose some of them." But he couldn't come outright and say that, ergo why he was feeding me a line of bull.

The next quiz I dumbed down, and this time a whopping 30% of the students passed. Naturally there was the same cacophony of complaints which resulted me landing in the dean's office once again. This process continued until I had more or less realized that not only were the students dead set against learning or trying to feign some semblance of being a scholar as well as the complete lack of back up from management to hold some level of standards to these kids. And so, choosing the path of least resistance, I decided I would not only make the quizzes and tests insanely easier, but skew the grading curve so greatly it would put affirmative action to shame.

It's likely, should the recession worsen or enrollments trend downward, that administrators at real colleges and universities will view the proprietaries as competitive threats to be emulated. That's something for the faculty to resist. The excess demand is still for real degrees at perceived prestige institutions.

Sometimes that excess demand comes from the genuine students who discover themselves trapped in an unchallenging environment.

Of course the concept of "earning" A's was a joke. Only 2-3 students per class really "earned" an A. But the grading curve was so skewed (at the request of the dean to make sure everybody passed) that the math more or less bumped people who would have really earned a C into the A+ category.

This behooved on my part true pity for the few students I did have that did indeed earn A's. They would study hard and effectively waste their time because all they would have to do is the bare minimum to pass and still get an A.

However, insisting on some kind of level of integrity, if I had to bump some degenerate loser's 12% score to the 70% necessary to pass, then I would bump everybody's score up by 58%. Not to mention the never ending requests from students to do some kind of "extra credit" to pass, I would have to present the same opportunity to every student, of which of course the straight A students would avail themselves of and earn even more unnecessary points. This resulted in some very interesting final scores. Of the possible 100 points you could have earned in the class the top student had a final score of 170.

Chortle. I've never understood the mediocre-student logic under which either (a) a special opportunity to do additional work badly is a favor or (b) the better students won't take advantage of the opportunity.

The post also includes an amusing case study.

The students by this time knew enough about simple statistics that the concepts of the bell distribution curve and how standard deviation can estimate what percent of the population you rank in were within their ability to calculate. But, since I was a concerned teacher, the question was "what kind of calculation can we do or test to make this personal and interesting to my beloved students?" And then it hit me;

IQ.

There was a web site, where if you had the time, you could take a rather thorough IQ test and get your IQ. It wasn't official or anything, but it would serve the purposes of my little statistics experiment. The students would go online, take their IQ test and then calculate what percent of the population they ranked in, in terms of their IQ.

The students were all excited about it. Of course they were the smartest students in the world and the world and meanies like me were just out to get them. They were almost supremely confident they would score high and no doubt some of them were tentatively planning on showing me their IQ to "show me."

So off they went to the computer lab, 45 minutes they came back with their score and I then showed them the method using a mean of 100 to find out what percent of the population they ranked in.

And as more and more of them looked up their percentile on the little percentile sheets their shoulders slouched. Their faces shocked. The travel and hospitality majors, you could tell, were double checking their math because they couldn't believe they were that stupid. Many faced the paradox of having to ask me to help them because on one hand they couldn't believe they scored that low, but they didn't want me to see their IQ (which I insisted be kept confidential). One girl started crying and another student who never shut up and found it a vital necessity to constantly talk in class, actually shut up. We found one student was "officially" retarded (though he wasn't, he just didn't try) while another was ecstatic to find out she was in the top 30%, until I pointed out she subtracted wrong when calculating her standard deviation and she was in fact in the bottom 30%. The class was somber, silent and depressed. Oh sure, there were the genuine straight A students who were happy and arguably finally vindicated that they were smart, arguably MENSA material, but the rest of them got a harsh delivering blow from the real world. There was their real grading curve.

A curve that even some of the hedge-fund hustlers and others more favored by circumstance are discovering.

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