2.2.11

TWITTER DID NOT CAUSE STUDENT DISENGAGEMENT.  Reaction to Academically Adrift and related topics continues to come in.  Minding the Campus runs an essay by J. M. Anderson, listed as Dean of Humanities, Fine Arts, and Social Sciences at Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby (in the same legislative district as Northern Illinois University.)  There's something unusual here, as the division lists a Michael Pecherek as interim dean, since last summer.  Put that aside:  the column calls nonsense on the we-can't-push-[insert protected class]-students-too-hard approach to higher education.
The recent study conducted by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College shows that only 26 percent of undergraduates at small institutions, and only 18 percent at larger institutions, felt strongly that their professors had high expectations and challenged them academically. At a state university where I taught, seniors who took my 100-level survey course told me that it was the hardest and most intellectually demanding class they had taken in four years at college. Many were actually grateful for having taken my course and felt cheated by their other professors---although others weren't as grateful and eventually dropped the course or wrote negative comments on Ratemyprofessor.com. In an age when higher education exists for credentialing, and anyone can "get a degree," they wanted an easy professor and a blow-off class. I refused to accommodate them.

The problem is not a rigorous curriculum or high academic standards. As a freshman I was neither ready nor prepared for college. I grew up on the South side of Chicago in a working-class family. My mother, a single-parent, raised my three sisters and me. No one in my immediate or extended family (except for one cousin) went to college, let alone to graduate school. College wasn't even an option, and I probably wouldn't have considered it if my high school director hadn't asked me at the beginning of my senior year where I planned to apply. After serving in the army, I attended a liberal arts college where I came under the spell of two fascinating teachers whose ability to stimulate students seemed unparalleled. They didn't dismiss me or write me off or let me slide by because I wasn't college material. Rather, they made me read difficult and challenging books; they took the time to teach me to write; and they showed me by their example how a mature, learned, and disciplined mind approaches various intellectual questions. Above all else, they imbued me with the appropriate habits of thought and mind that defines the liberally educated person. If I had been tested, as a senior, on what I learned in biology my freshman year, or in economics my sophomore year, I probably would have failed; but if one compared my disposition, mindset, and intellectual outlook, as a senior, to what they were as a freshman, one would have seen an entirely different person.

That's where colleges and universities are failing today. They are not turning students into mature, thinking beings with appropriate dispositions. One reason is that modern educators share no common goals about the ends of higher education and are inconsistent with their expectations from students in their courses; another reason is lack of discipline in the classroom, instruction without authority. Professors mustn't dictate what is good for students or what they must know; subjecting students to rigorous academic standards and intellectual discipline is tantamount to punishing them; reason and argument are coercive.

Like many professors, I have dealt with students who thought they deserved good grades simply because they were enrolled in my class and showed up most of the time. When a former student who received a bad grade on a paper complained because I didn't allow him to express his "opinion," I said that first he had requirements to fulfill and to demonstrate his understanding of the particulars of our subject before he could offer an "opinion" on the issue he was writing about. He didn't like my answer. He had been encouraged to express himself throughout grade school and high school and held the assumption that every interpretation is valid and should be given equal weight. He ignored that I was hired and paid for my knowledge, which gave me the authority to instruct him and to evaluate his performance.
This rarely (if ever) happens in the sciences. Budding biologists and fledgling physicists follow a strict curriculum and willingly submit to it, or else they get "weeded out," and then take up a soft subject in the humanities. Nor does it happen in college sports. Watch any college football or basketball game and you'll see coaches often chastising players, who readily submit themselves to their criticisms and demands, but almost never complain that coaches are intimidating or too strict. Why? Because it is understood that coaches know what is best for student-athletes and are pushing them to improve their skills and performance. Only in the sciences and college sports---apparently what really matter---is the demand for excellence taken seriously.
I hope his candor didn't get him bounced from Illinois Valley.  Institutional research at Northern Illinois suggests that community college transfers do at least as well as juniors and seniors as students that begin here.  He intends to read Academically Adrift, but he's not in any great hurry.

A Newark Star-Ledger investigation of the parlous success rates at New Jersey's public colleges and universities rounds up the usual suspects.
College officials say the answer is complex. Some students drop out. Some transfer to other schools. Some work part time or deliberately don’t take a full load of classes so they have easier semesters.
Many also change majors, take remedial classes or find that overcrowding and budget cuts mean they can’t get into the courses they need to graduate on time.
Most colleges are reluctant to reveal their degree completion numbers. The data is rarely highlighted in college marketing materials or mentioned on campus tours.
Read on, though, and another possibility appears.
There are, however, plenty of exceptions. Ed Kwiatkowski graduated from Monmouth University earlier this month in 3½ years with a double major in accounting and management.
Kwiatkowski, 22, earned his degree by taking 18 credits a semester while working full time at night doing heavy lifting in a warehouse. He also served as guardian for his teenage sister after his mother’s death.
At Monmouth, where 37 percent of freshmen graduate in four years, Kwiatkowski said he knows several classmates who are taking extra time to get their degree.
“I really don’t know what’s taking them so long,” said Kwiatkowski, of Long Branch.
The article doesn't mention how one observation turns into plenty of exceptions.  It's encouraging to see evidence, even anecdotal, of people working their way through university.

A Northern Star columnist also weighs in.
While I do think that everyone deserves the chance to go to college, I do not necessarily think that means that everyone is actually meant for higher education. Those who may not be cut out for college usually find out quite early on in their academic careers and rarely make it to graduation.
Thus, I think that the aforementioned statistic may be skewed by the fact that part of those 45 percent who are not learning at an acceptable rate should not have been accepted to the universities in the first place and do not reflect the learning of the undergraduates who actually go on to earn degrees.


While it may not be financially beneficial to universities, I think that increasing the standards for admission would be the first step in curbing this trend.


Another part of the problem is that professors are not pushing students hard enough.


According to the study, half of the students who were tested "did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week."


The truth is that with all of the advantages afforded to the modern student by the Internet, expectations should rise in accordance. Between Microsoft Word's "auto-correct" features, websites like SparkNotes.com and access to an abundance of digital libraries, there is no real reason why a student should be failing or even struggling.


If anything, these resources have made it too easy for students to coast through classes without actually challenging themselves.


I am not sure of what college was like before the Internet, but if course loads have not increased dramatically in the last 15 years, then the second step toward improving our educational system would be for professors to demand a little bit more from their students.


Finally, the third component in addressing this problem is obviously the students. I know that my suggestions so far may not please everyone as they basically amount to making things harder, but think about what you are paying for.


Sure, we ultimately are trying to get degrees that lead to careers, but what is the value of our education if we are not being pushed to grow intellectually?


While I don't think that today's college students are the stereotypes that eat pizza for breakfast and drink until they pass out every night, I do hear too much complaining about assignments and grades.
We pay thousands of dollars a year to get smarter, not to have someone confirm how smart we think we are.
I don't get much of that "I'm-paying-for-a-credential" stuff; my reaction is "would you blame the fitness trainer if you stayed fat because you never exercised or switched from beer to water?"  The financial benefit of enrollment for its own sake is slim in any event, once the cost-benefit ratio of the support services is taken into account.

No comments: