Well, it’s that time of year again. Students are pouring out of high schools across the country, with most getting ready for the next natural step: college.
In one sense that’s good. Today’s economy requires more people than ever to have college degrees, and studies show those people make more money and enjoy their jobs more than people without college degrees.
However, as politically incorrect as this may be to say, not everyone should go to college. Think of it this way: Many elementary schools hand out bumper stickers saying “We honor all our students.” But what that means is that they, in fact, honor none of their students. In a society where almost everyone goes to college, a bachelor’s degree will quickly lose its value.
In the June issue of The Atlantic, “Professor X,” an instructor at what he calls “colleges of last resort” described his frustration as an introductory English teacher. “Students routinely fail; some fail multiple times, and some will never pass, because they cannot write a coherent sentence.”
Why are they even in the class, then? They’re pushed. “I teach young men who must amass a certain number of credits before they can become police officers or state troopers, lower-echelon health-care workers who need credits to qualify for raises, and municipal employees who require college-level certification to advance at work,” Professor X writes.
This teacher has no problem failing students who don’t measure up -- sometimes as many as nine out of 15 students fail the class. But that misses the larger point: They shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
“No one is thinking about the larger implications, let alone the morality, of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass,” Professor X writes. “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.”
This professor is doing everything possible to maintain the value of a four-year degree by failing anyone and everyone who doesn’t measure up. However, not every teacher is going to be as vigilant. Some will be tempted to let marginal students slide through. And many will undoubtedly feel pressure from their superiors to pass unprepared students.
In the May 14 edition of Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik wrote about one such professor, biology teacher Steven Aird, recently fired by Norfolk State University.