Worried they “just don’t get it”

Before I post a link to the most recent instant of this, an explanation is justified.  Here is my worry.  Too many newspapers, radio shows, tv commentators talk about a college “degree”.  When someone points out that not all degrees represent an education, I worry that the authors, etc… think, “Everyone knows that not all educations are the same, just like not all people have the same abilities.”  But just because not everyone needs, or is qualified for, the same education, it is not neccessarily true that most people are getting the education they are qualified for.  Well, maybe, that’s just the way the world works.  But if that were all there were to it, I wouldn’t be spending my time on this blog, nor would David Riesman or Clark Kerr have made their statements.  What is happening, far, far too often, is that students are not even getting close to the education they are qualified for, or need.  It’s not even offered to them.  And this is what I thnink many writers on higher education “just don’t get.”

I posted on this article http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/how-to-cure-the-college-dropout-syndrome/#postComment

Here is a copy:

In discussions of education, there is too much use of the phrase college “degree” instead of college “education”.  There is also too much reliance on averages to justify getting a degree, any degree. A glance at payscale’s data will reveal that there are wide differences in education, even with students with similar abilities.

 

What is the reason for this? David Riesmann, in his classic, “On Higher Education.. in an Era of Rising Student Consumerism” wrote that “…advantage can…be taken of [students] by unscrupulous instructors and institutions..” . Clark Kerr wrote, “…This shift from academic merit to student consumerism is one of the…greatest reversals of direction in…the history of…higher education..”

 

To understand how this happens, here is just one example from my experience teaching math at an “elite” university.  I taught a course based on MIT’s online materials to engineering students. The Engineering School complained that the course might be discouraging to some students, and my Chairman asked me to teach it as a “cookbook” course.  I refused. Here is a “complaint” the engineering school sent us from a tutor to show why my course wasn’t appropriate,  “…I cannot do many of the [MIT homework] problems…and I made an A in the [previous cookbook] course…”  My students laughed when they heard this.

 

This is not just “grade inflation”.  It is “content deflation”.  But this happens when schools seek prestige and revenue by marketing to uneducated consumers.”

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