Thursday, October 23, 2008

Shhh, if this gets out I'm out of a day job...

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, 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.

1 comment:

Dymphna said...

We returned this evening from visiting our son at grad school. Oh, how I loathe "higher" learning.

He says that the conversations at this new school waft over him in drifts of platitudes. or something like that...and he's a science major. What must it be like for the humanities majors?

I didn't like his undergrad school any better, but I can see his culture shock at being in the midst of a large -- nay, humungous -- student body after being at a smaller place. And it doesn't help that his advisor appears to suffer from an untreated bi-polar disorder. In the real world, he'd have long been given the boot. In academia, they give such people tenure.

Anyway, when I read this post the other day, I was reminded of Billy Collin's homage to Wallace Stevens in this poem, so I'm finally getting around to passing it on in case you haven't seen it. If you're familiar with "Sunday Morning" I think you'll find it a passing good homage --

Monday Morning
by Billy Collins
The complacency of this student, late
for the final, who chews her pen for an hour,
who sits in her sunny chair,
with a container of coffee and an orange,
a cockatoo swinging freely in her green mind
as if on some drug dissolved,
mingling to give her a wholly ancient rush.
She dreams a little and she fears the mark
she might well get–a catastrophe–
as a frown darkens the hauteur of her light brow.
The orange peels and her bright senior ring
make her think of some procession of classmates,
walking across the wide campus, without a sound,
stalled for the passing of her sneakered feet
over the lawn, to silent pals and steins,
dorm of nobody who would bother to pull an A or care.


BTW, we is all in our family afficianados of history.

The Baron likes his European. I like Colonial history, and our offspring likes it all, even into the 20th century, where he is given to pondering military decisions...he took ROTC courses for fun, which confused the ROTCEE kids who would puzzle why anyone would study John Boyd if they didn't have to.

Nowadays he uses Boyd's OODA loop theory to fly behind his advisor's strange wobbly craft. So far he has remained aloft and out of shooting range.

Here's a place you might enjoy:

World History Blog