Sunday, January 23, 2011
Are College Students Really Wasting Their Money?
LEFT: Loyola freshman Theology class, ca. 1964.
(BELOW): One night's freshman Theology homework for Loyola University, Sept. 1964)
On one of Keith Olbermann's last 'Countdown' episodes last week, the lead story was the deplorable condition of today's college students who appear to be wasting their parents' hard-earned money and being more invested in "social connections" than academics. Keith noted that 36% come out of the college experience with not much more in terms of academic skills than they entered. One college freshman (according to this survey based on some 24 innominate colleges and universities - and when one sees these results one can understand why they opt to remain innominate!) asserted that her first year of college was even easier than her senior year of high school.
Worse, barely one -fifth of freshman are required to take any course in which they have to read more than 30 pages per week, or write (compose) more than three, 3-page essays or homework papers per term. To top this off, the plurality leave college or university with next to zero critical thinking skills, as betrayed by one stat which indicated most of these graduates are unable to read an editorial or newspaper page and discern the facts presented from opinions!
How the hell has it come to this sorry state?
My recollection of my own first year college experience (at Loyola University, New Orleans, 1964) was that it was a quantum jump relative to my high school senior year (in which I earned my scholarship to attend Loyola by consistently being ranked first in grade point average).
Escaping writing? You've got to be kidding! Attached for example, is one night's homework from the Freshman Theology class. Each of these questions had to be finished to completion with sound and well-reasoned responses provided - no short cuts and no doing the equivalent of copying from books (for today's students)! (By going online to ask for help on Answers.com or AllExperts.com!)
This type of assignment, which usually consumed at least seven written pages, sometimes eight (depending on the questions) was given three times each week conforming with the frequency of the class. In addition, more detailed questions would often be asked in the class pertaining to the assignment.
Given the recent U.S. college survey results, it appears not 1 in 20 of today's students would be able to keep up with such a course. I warrant most would probably take a drop class before two weeks elapsed.
Even more appalling to me, is how today's students seem to be getting breaks galore regarding grades. Keith mentioned one set of students that garnered a 3.2 GPA based on about 10 hours overall study (all classes) per week study time. THIS is truly ridiculous! The rule at Loyola (as at many other universities at the time) was that to garner a Gentleman's 'C' you did 2 hours of outside study for each hour in class attendance. (This did not include written assignments). To get a 'B' for a typical 18-credit hour (normal- at that time) load, one would have to invest at least 3 x 18 = 54 hours a week in study! In other words, nearly all these college kids today would have flunked out at Loyola.
Of course, much of the problem to do with grade inflation began with the absurd "teacher evaluations" - which placed a power in students' hands hitherto unavailable. Trouble is, the power has been misused and abused to the point profs are terrified of giving anything less than a 'B' for fear of retribution on the eval form! I myself, when I began teaching 3rd semester Calculus-physics at a Maryland College (after returning to the U.S. from Barbados in 1992) was informed by the lecturer whose place I was taking not to give anything less than 'B'.
That simple request revealed to me how much grade achievement had become detached from the actual process of earning a grade!
All of which suggests to me that many college students are simply wasting their parents' money. Especially if they believe their degree will gain them some critical foot in the door in terms of work and remuneration.
A perceptive take ('The Myth of Higher Education') offered by Dr. S. Mason in an issue of Integra (No. 9, Oct. ) the journal of Intertel, is that a huge error of American education is orientating it explicitly for the utilitarian purpose of making money or getting a job. As he writes:
"the bottom line regarding a well -rounded education is that it has nothing to do with any kind of bottom line. Its value (non-monetary) is to be found in the quality it adds to one's life. It allows one to better appreciate music, art, history and literature. It contributes to a better understanding of language and culture, nature and philosophy. It expands rather than limits horizons and replaces faith and belief with reason and logic"
Mason adds that it "teaches a person to live - not to earn a living" and that living encompasses an impetus for further learning just for its own sake. If a fantastic, well-paying job also comes with it, that's icing on the cake.
Sadly, from the recent survey, it appears today's spoiled college kids will be left in the lurch on both earning and quality of life fronts.