Last week's column discussed the sad and tragic state of affairs in higher education. According to loads of letters received in response to that column, it's worse than I thought. Let me share just a few of them. One person wrote that he knows an elementary school teacher and said, "She believed, until just this past summer, that the state of Alaska was an island because it is so often shown as an inset on many U.S. maps, appearing somewhat like an island."
A professor said that while he was trying to help a student with a problem, he asked her, "What is 20,000 minus 600?" He went on to say, "She literally could not answer without the calculator." He rhetorically questioned, "Should a person receive a college degree that cannot answer that in their head?"
An English professor wrote, "One of the items that I assigned was a two-page essay that described a favorite vacation or holiday. One student turned in two pictures drawn with crayon depicting the beach. When I gave her a failing grade, she was indignant and said that she put a great deal of work into the pictures. When I told her that she did not do the assignment and that she was supposed to write an essay, she said, ?But I don't know what an essay is!'"
Such students are academic cripples and don't belong in college in the first place. Recently released findings of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked U.S. high school students 24th out of 29 countries. American 15-year-olds demonstrate less math proficiency than their counterparts in Hungary and the Slovak Republic. With those findings, we shouldn't be surprised by a recent U.S. Department of Education study finding that nearly half of all college students must take remedial courses in math and reading. According to National Center for Education Statistics, in 2000 close to 80 percent of colleges offered remedial services.
Several devastating consequences result when colleges admit unprepared students. First, it lets high schools off the hook by allowing them to continue to confer fraudulent diplomas. Second, it leads to a dumbing down of the academic curricula and the creation of Mickey Mouse courses for students who can't make it in more challenging courses. Academic departments or professors who don't dumb down their classes and participate in grade inflation risk declining enrollment and administrative threats to their budgets. Finally, hiring faculty to staff remedial courses inflates college costs to parents and taxpayers.