Showing posts with label grade inflation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grade inflation. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

College students: Don't take out student loans to get a degree in an easy discipline

"Easy money lays light in the hand," Solzhenitsyn observed, "and doesn't give you the feeling you've earned it."

We can say the same thing about easy college courses and easy academic majors. 

It is quite feasible for a student to get an easy college degree. Universities have ditched rigorous admission standards so that anyone can get into college, and grade inflation has made it possible to pass through a university without studying and without learning anything. 

Every university has a few academic majors that are known not to be challenging. And every college has a few professors who are too lazy to engage in rigorous grading.  

Twenty years ago, when I was teaching at the University of Houston, a professor in my department taught multiple sections of a general education course--a course that students from across the university could count toward their degree requirements. Semester after semester, his classes were packed because he did not grade any assignments, and he gave every student an A. 

Young people may think they are playing it smart by choosing nonchallenging classes and easy academic majors. Why enroll in a class taught by a brilliant professor if the prof is a hard grader?  Why not sign up for classes taught by an indolent professor who gives out puffball assignments and then doesn't grade them?

I confess that I am not speaking from the pinnacle of academic rigor. I majored in sociology--the painful enumeration of the obvious. I made straight As my last semester without even buying textbooks.  And I learned absolutely nothing.

Then I went to law school, where the professors graded on a strict curve. Only 5 percent of first-year students received As, 10 percent got Bs, and 75 percent had to settle for a C (or worse).

To my surprise, I excelled in this rigorous environment, and I graduated with honors from the University of Texas School of Law. Forty years later, this is still my proudest professional accomplishment.

Please take my advice and don't choose the easy path while in college, especially if you are taking out student loans. After four, or five, or six years of study, you will wind up with a vacuous degree and no job skills.  

You may then decide to get a master's degree and select a graduate program with low admission requirements. That choice will lead to a second worthless degree.

Then where will you be?  You will find yourself buried under a mountain of debt you cannot pay off. Those mindless courses and that easy major will embarrass you, and you will feel like a fool. 

As Solzhenitsyn put it, "There [is] truth in the old saying: pay short money and get short value."



Sunday, March 17, 2019

Rich parents paying bribes to get their kids into elite colleges: Why risk jail for kids to get a mediocre education?

I live in Louisiana, where the most heinous thing a person can do is buy Chinese crawfish.

So I shouldn't have been shocked by the reaction of my Louisiana friends to the college-admission scandal that is roiling the national media. Several Louisianians expressed surprise that it is illegal to bribe your way into an elite college.  After all, my friends pointed out, it is well known that wealthy people get their kids into Baton Rouge's exclusive private high schools by making big donations.

What's the difference, one chum asked me, between bribing a soccer coach to get admitted to Yale and making a $5,000 donation to Catholic High School to make sure one's child gets admitted?

Not much, I admit.

Nevertheless, why pay bribes to get your kid into an elite college? After all, it is not the end of the world if your child does not get into Yale, USC, or Georgetown. There are a lot of prestigious universities in this country, and a well-qualified high-school graduate has a shot at getting into one of them.

Moreover, today's elite colleges are not what they used to be. Grade inflation, identity politics, and an atmosphere of political correctness have watered down the curriculum at colleges that once maintained rigorous academic standards.  According to a Boston Globe article published 18 years ago, 91 percent of Harvard's students graduated summa, magna or cum laude in 2001. 

How could that be? According to the Globe writer, "It takes just a B-minus average in the major subject to earn cum laude -- no sweat at a school where 51 percent of the grades last year were A's and A- minuses."

Maybe Harvard tightened standards since that article was written in 2001. Or maybe not. According to a Harvard Crimson article published in 2017, "more than half of surveyed [Harvard]seniors reported a GPA of 3.7 or greater, which is higher than an average grade of A- for every course."

So what's my point? I suppose it is this. America's elite colleges are nothing special, and families shouldn't turn them selves inside out to get their children into these overpriced diploma factories. They shouldn't go into ruinous debt to pay tuition bills at these hot-air palaces, and they certainly shouldn't pay a bribe to get their kids into Yale.

I did not get my undergraduate degree from a prestigious university. I did, however, get a doctorate from Harvard Graduate School of Education; and it was nothing special.

I realized before I graduated that I had made a major mistake when I enrolled at Harvard. I feel very sorry for parents who took out Parent PLUS loans or co-signed their children's student loans in order to pay tuition at some overpriced, high-prestige university.

As for the parents who face criminal charges in the college-admission scandal, I do not think they should go to jail. Rather, their children should be forced to attend the colleges they bribed their way into, and parents should pay the full tuition cost. Four years later, when the parents see how their kids turned out after graduating from one of these elite schools, that will be punishment enough.

Felicity Huffman (photo credit: David McNew/ AFP/ Getty Images)