America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree, wherein we find these figures:
Today, amazingly, a majority of the students whom colleges admit are grossly underprepared. Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science...
A 2006 study supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50 percent of college seniors scored below "proficient" levels on a test that required them to do such basic tasks as understand the arguments of newspaper editorials or compare credit-card offers. Almost 20 percent of seniors had only basic quantitative skills. The students could not estimate if their car had enough gas to get to the gas station.
So undergraduates aren't ready for us. I blame the public education system and subcultures that devalue pedagogy. But when the author begins talking about solutions, I began to cringe:
- A national test, which could be developed by the major testing companies, should measure skills important for responsible citizenship and career success. Some of the test should be in career contexts: the ability to draft a persuasive memo, analyze an employer's financial report, or use online research tools to develop content for a report.
What part of HELL NO do I need to spell out? Not that testing is evil in and of itself. I just know where this will lead: federal funding (which will create more useless bureaucratic jobs) will become tied to test scores, and low-performing colleges will begin teaching the exams at the expense of subject matter. It's the path of least resistance.
The author makes some other points, many of which are good (or, at least, present no immediate sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach). I especially liked this one:
- If your child's high-school grades and test scores are in the bottom half for his class, resist the attempts of four-year colleges to woo him. Colleges make money whether or not a student learns, whether or not she graduates, and whether or not he finds good employment. Let the buyer beware. Consider an associate-degree program at a community college, or such nondegree options as apprenticeship programs (see http://www.khake.com), shorter career-preparation programs at community colleges, the military, and on-the-job training, especially at the elbow of a successful small-business owner. [emphasis mine]
And therein we find the root of all evil: colleges are money-making machines for administrators, bureaucrats and student loan officers. I would love to see a financial aid worker's face if one were ever told that they could lose their jobs if too many of their "clients" failed out or otherwise defaulted on their obligations. Bank officials can lose their jobs if they make too many bad loans (oh wait, not if they're the bank executives or if they contribute to members of Congress...), why not financial aid workers?
But I digress. Colleges are money-making machines, and most students don't need half of what they are forced to learn, prepared or not. I should be careful, though. If word of this gets out, historians may be out on the streets --or even asking for a Congressional bailout.
UPDATE: wave if you came here via Gates of Vienna. I'm actually quite pleased that thoughtful people can have serious disagreements on some things yet find (non-esoteric) things to agree on.