Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Degrees Are Earned, Not Sold

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There is an old saying that, “Education is the only purchase people make where they complain if they get too much for their money.”  Although everyone can complain about something relative to higher education, in my opinion, the largest problem today is the decline in the level of education provided compared to 20 or 30 years ago.  We, as educators, have allowed the students to determine how much education is enough in any given course.  We have also, in many cases, allowed grade inflation which, to some extent, has fueled the decline in the level of instruction.

Thirty years ago the volume and depth of material covered in an introductory class was much greater than it is today.  Students complain if they are required to research and write a 20 page paper written in proper English with proper punctuation. The common complaint heard is, “This is not an English class.” We, as professors, have coddled our students, given them grades they did not truly earn, and written them recommendations they did not deserve.  We do all of this for several of reasons. First, the student goes away happy and we have less hassle.  Second, if the students go away we can get back to our research which will earn us a raise and promotion while teaching gets us neither. Third, the department head/dean gets no complaints and therefore believes all is well. Fourth, it is easier.
We need to make students more responsible for their education.

 We need to give only grades that are truly earned and we need to have the guts to tell a student, “I cannot write you a glowing recommendation because you did not perform well in my class and that is the only basis I have for recommending you.”  These are not fun things to do and they do not lead to raises and promotions.  But, if we are to provide quality education we need to begin doing these things again.

We also must stop being afraid that our students will say we are not fun in class.  In this light, however, we must be sure that we speak coherent English, cover the material in full, and keep it from being boring.  We need to accept that those students who do assimilate most of what we try to teach will use only what we provide. The students will sleep during class if it is boring or not attend class at all.  And, most of all, if we bore them to death, we need to know they will not learn

Because this country has decided that everyone is entitled to a college education, we have bent over backwards to make it possible for all students to get a college degree.  That should not be what we do.  We should agree that everyone who wishes has an opportunity to earn a college degree.  However, we should not provide college degrees to those who do not earn it.  There is a huge difference between providing an opportunity to earn a college degree and ensuring that everyone who wishes gets a college degree

We need to ensure that students take more responsibility for their education. What happened to telling the students, “Look to your right and look to your left, only one of your will be here on graduation day.”  Yes, as an entering freshman that was a scary message. But, it did encourage the students to take responsibility for their education and degree.  It also let the faculty and staff know that it was okay to fail a student who is not producing.

Both faculty and students have to stop believing that because a student enters college, they are entitled to a degree.  We need to provide valid and interesting information.  We need to grade what is appropriate and we need to admit that not everyone who enters college will earn a degree.  We also need to remember that degrees are supposed to be earned and not sold.

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