Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The College Dilemma

College is for everyone, right? If only we could find a way to make it affordable for everyone, then every American could get a four-year degree and peace and prosperity would abound. I'm sure it's that easy, but a college professor writing a piece for The Atlantic disagrees.

I work at colleges of last resort. For many of my students, college was not a goal they spent years preparing for, but a place they landed in. Those I teach don’t come up in the debates about adolescent overachievers and cutthroat college admissions. Mine are the students whose applications show indifferent grades and have blank spaces where the extracurricular activities would go. They chose their college based not on the U.S. News & World Report rankings but on MapQuest; in their ideal academic geometry, college is located at a convenient spot between work and home. I can relate, for it was exactly this line of thinking that dictated where I sent my teaching résumé.
The bursting of our collective bubble comes quickly. A few weeks into the semester, the students must start actually writing papers, and I must start grading them. Despite my enthusiasm, despite their thoughtful nods of agreement and what I have interpreted as moments of clarity, it turns out that in many cases it has all come to naught.

Remarkably few of my students can do well in these classes. Students routinely fail; some fail multiple times, and some will never pass, because they cannot write a coherent sentence.

He continues.

There seems, as is often the case in colleges, to be a huge gulf between academia and reality. No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass. The colleges and the students and I are bobbing up and down in a great wave of societal forces—social optimism on a large scale, the sense of college as both a universal right and a need, financial necessity on the part of the colleges and the students alike, the desire to maintain high academic standards while admitting marginal students—that have coalesced into a mini-tsunami of difficulty. No one has drawn up the flowchart and seen that, although more-widespread college admission is a bonanza for the colleges and nice for the students and makes the entire United States of America feel rather pleased with itself, there is one point of irreconcilable conflict in the system, and that is the moment when the adjunct instructor, who by the nature of his job teaches the worst students, must ink the F on that first writing assignment.

The whole article is fairly damning of the current system. The anonymous professor says that we need to make vo-tech degrees more valuable and move away from the notion that everyone including the "people who run the boilers" need to have a four-year college degree because some people just are not cut out for it.

It is not demeaning to anyone to say this. We often have a tendency to conflate equality with sameness. We may all be equal in that we are all humans beings and American citizens, but the notion that we are all equally capable of all tasks is absurd and illogical. Each of us is different and has different talents and aptitudes. We should all have the opportunity to pursue higher education, but the notion that one must have it to attain even a minimally paying job is absurd. A high school education or a technical degree should be sufficient for a wide variety of decent paying jobs that can support a person. That's not to say that these people should make the same as someone who does get a four-year (or more) degree, only that they shouldn't feel a need to go to college in order to get a job that really shouldn't require it.


kyle said...

not to mention the fact that some jobs will not reasonably provide the means to repay a student loan.
Robert Reich has some interesting comments regarind universities(its only a brief paragraph, but remarkably brilliant) in "supercapitalism".
and, of course, i cant help but also mention wendel berry and his numerous writings regarding education and the education process.

Jed said...

I think larnin is reel portant. Yu gotta larn yer reedin and yur rithmitic if yer gonna git anyweres in this here werld.

So you jus leve them college kids be.