This is a bit of a departure, a showcase for one of Ethics Alarms most active commenters (especially appreciated as the blog experiences boycotts, embargos, and Facebook blocking and other indignities), Michael R. The topic is the recent College Admission scandal, which has been covered here and here.
Michael, an educator, is well informed on this topic, and he shows it in three excellent Comments of the Day. And I forgive him for never, ever, making a typo.
The college scandal has many, many facets. What has caused standards to slip so low? Well, athletics obviously has a corrosive effect, with students admitted based on athletic ability instead of academic ability. The grade inflation has also greatly degraded college standards. The almost lack of education occurring in our high schools is another factor.
An overlooked factor, however, is the public higher ed systems’ oversupply of colleges. Public college policy has mainly been about votes and prestige, not actual societal need. This has resulted in a lot more colleges than the country actually needs. A typical example would be Local Community College. Well, the President of Local Community College would rather not be the laughingstock of the College President’s Club, so he petitions the state legislature to authorize his school to offer 4-year degrees. He states that his community deserves a 4-year school like (insert rival town here). This proposal is mainly decided on its political merits, not the needs of the state as a whole. It goes through, along with new funding for new facilities, new faculty, and more students for the Local State College. With all the Community Colleges becoming State Colleges, the presidents of the Regional State Colleges petition to become Regional State Universities. They point out the prestige and grant money they could get if they had graduate programs. This too, is granted based on political merit. The National Science Foundation is then pressured to remove funding from the traditional research schools and transfer it to the new State Universities amid allegations of elitism for favoring longstanding research schools with top-notch researchers over the new State Universities with no significant research results and they cave. Now, with no community colleges left, a new round of community colleges is constructed. This increases the number of seats for college students by 30% or so, but there are not more high school students graduating. This is repeated all over the country, so out-of-state students are not an option. The only reasonable option is to lower admissions standards. Once the admission standards are lowered, retention suffers and the faculty are ordered to improve retention and graduation rates. The only reasonable way to do this is to make the classes easier and the race to the bottom is on.
The result is more college graduates, fewer college graduates that are competent, an increase in research funding, and a decrease in meaningful results from research funding.