Comment of the Day: “College: the Worst Consumer Scam of All?”

From Michael, responding to the post on a recent book’s conclusions about today’s college students, their study habits and achievements based on several surveys and studies:

“This is not surprising at all.  It is only surprising to those who close their eyes, plug their ears, and hum really loudly when any concerns like this are raised.  Student achievement has been falling so fast, it is ridiculous.  I can see the difference year to year.  Students aren’t required to study much, are not challenged, and are taught to ‘think’ by people who believe the word ‘think’ means ‘repeat everything I say’.

Differences between my college experience and todays college experience:

1990: General chemistry was remedial because everyone learned it in high school.
Today:  General chemistry is being ‘dumbed down’ so that students can understand it

1990: History classes required a minimum of 250 pages of reading/week.
Today: Students complain about 100 pages/week as ‘unrealistic’

1990: I spent 60-70 hours/week on my classes.
Today: Most spend about 20 hours/week.

1990: Calc I was the first math class for college credit.  Trigonometry was remedial.
Today: Algebra II is the first math class for college credit.  Algebra I is remedial.

1990: The professors had tests from 7-9PM so they didn’t lose lecture time.
Today:  Students won’t come to a test time at night because they have other things to do.

1990: Professors had us read and learn material on our own that we were responsible for knowing (on tests).
Today: A faculty member would be in deep trouble if they tested students over material they didn’t mention in class.

1990:  We were required to write in a professional manner We had to have proper grammar and mostly proper punctuation in our writing.
Today:  Journals are changing their standards because too few young scientists can write in the passive voice.

1990: We had a part time jobs that took 10-12 hours/week.  We had modest college funds ($10,000-20,000) to help us get through school.
Today:  Students try to work 30+ hours to pay for school.  Their parents saved nothing for college for them.  They are unaware of what a college fund is.

1990: We did independent research for 2-3 years as undergraduates.  This required at least 20 hours/week.  Research made us bring together what we learned in our lecture and lab classes and apply it to new situations (how do I remove the sulfur from petroleum?).
Today: Students are too busy with extracurricular activities and work to take part in research.

You can claim this is all false, that I am an old curmudgeon, but I know that at least half of the assertion is false (I may be a curmudgeon).  I have a file of the standardized exams from years past.  Anyone can look at  those and see that the tests from the 80’s and early 90’s are significantly harder than the ones given today.  If you took an ACT or SAT test from that time period, gave it to the students today, and graded them on the scale from the test’s time, you would see the difference instantly.

“To shock my students into studying, I sometimes give them a sample final exam from the early 80’s.  They freak out and study like mad.  When they finish the actual exam, they get kind of mad about how easy it was.  Then I tell them why.

“Oh, I wouldn’t put too much weight on that study, however.  My students are given that survey. The problem is, it isn’t mandatory.  The only benefit is that it helps you get off probation (on my campus).  Who takes a voluntary 2 hour test?  That means that only the lower-performing students get surveyed.”

2 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “College: the Worst Consumer Scam of All?”

  1. As the parent of a new college freshman, having spent the past year watching high school seniors prepare for college, I have to rebut some of this.

    — Every college-bound senior I know took math well past Algebra II. My own daughter took Calculus, and tested into the college Calc III class.
    — Most of the kids I know expected to have some of their college paid for by their parents, generally the first year or two, then they were expected to pick up the rest. Believe me, with the economy the way it is, every kid knows what a college fund is. All we parents have seen them depleted, and have been loudly whining, and frantically doing math!
    — The new SAT writing section rates students on their ability to write, including grammar, punctuation, syntax, vocabulary, etc. Not all colleges & universities require advanced skills there, but they are considered with the cumulative SAT score.
    — So far, my daughter’s college classes very much require independent work and research and a lot of reading. I would anticipate that to only increase as she progresses in a course of study.

    Though I may be rationalizing. I am paying a HUGE amount to this college, under the assumption that it will provide my daughter what she needs for a successful career. Please don’t destroy my fantasies!

    • I really think college is one of the biggest rip-offs in existence, most of the time. A dedicated kid can get his or her money’s worth; otherwise, it’s just a scheme to keep arrogant scholars well-fed and funded.

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