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

Friday, February 17, 2023

Surprise! Surprise! Survey finds college graduates are not emotionally ready to enter the workforce

 Before the French signed an armistice with Germany in 1940, France and England were allies against Hitler. One of their first major joint ventures was a plan to invade Norway and deprive Germany of the iron ore that the Nazis needed to wage war.

British, French, Norwegian, and Polish forces attacked German troops at Narvik, the leading Norwegian port for exporting iron ore. Ten times larger than the Germans' defending force, it took the allies a long time to dislodge the Nazis. Then France and Great Britain threw their victory away by abandoning Norway to send troops to deal with the Wehrmacht onslaught in France.

British General Claude Auchinleck, reflecting on the Norwegian campaign, expressed disappointment with his country's army. "By comparison with the French, or the Germans for that matter, our men for the most part[,] seemed distressingly young, not so much in years as in self reliance and manliness generally."  In other words, in the spring of 1940, the British army wasn't up to the dirty job of defeating the Nazis.

Something similar is happening with American college graduates. A recent survey of recent college graduates by the Mary Christie Institute concluded that many recent college graduates aren't emotionally prepared for the world of work.

"Our findings found that once in the workplace, young people continue to struggle mentally and emotionally," MCI reported.  Overall, more than half the respondents reported mental health problems, with women reporting more mental health issues than men (p. 4).

Disturbingly, almost 40 percent "of respondents said their college did not help them develop skills to prepare them for the emotional or behavioral impact of the transition to the workplace" (p.  5).

Over half the respondents said they experienced burnout at least once a week (p. 4). Not surprisingly, graduates with heavy financial obligations reported more anxiety than their peers who were not excessively burdened by debt.

The MCI authors pointed out that the COVID pandemic probably contributed to the stress and anxiety young college graduates are facing. And I'm sure that's true.

Nevertheless, the MCI report highlights the fact that colleges need to do more to prepare their graduates to be confident and successful workers. Unfortunately, I believe colleges are contributing to their graduates' anxieties by placing them in an artificial environment that is very different from the corporate workplace.

First, grade inflation is rampant throughout higher education, which means that students are getting good grades without doing much work. Many perceive their stellar report cards as participation trophies--they get a good grade if they just show up for class. That attitude often transfers to the workplace, where college graduates' perception of work conflicts with employers' expectation that their professional workers do their best to excel.

Second, students who graduate from college without trying hard may believe their bachelor's degrees prove that they are more intelligent than most people.  In fact, someone who graduates with a high GPA from a humanities program at a mediocre college often doesn't know anything that would be useful on the job.

Finally, colleges that cause their students to take on heavy student-loan burdens are increasing their graduates' anxiety when their student loans stop, and they have to pay their rent and monthly student-loan payments.


Wednesday, February 15, 2023

What happens to young people who go to college without basic reading and writing skills? It's not good

  The Baton Rouge Advocate published an editorial a few days ago titled "Get ahead in colleges like LSU, without all the hard work." 

The editorial quoted Benjamin Haines, a graduate student at Louisiana State University, who has discovered that many LSU students arrive on campus without the basic skills they should have learned in high school.

"In my anecdotal experience as a teaching assistant at LSU," Haines wrote, "many young college students aren't equipped with the requisite writing or literary tools necessary to produce passable writing, a product of a failing secondary education system, rather than an indication of students' abilities. 

Haines continued with this condemnation:

Especially here in Louisiana, professors, instructors, and teaching assistants fight a daily uphill battle against a decrepit secondary educational system in which students are failing to receive the necessary literary skills to excel at the next level of learning, and business-minded university administrators that accept students who aren't genuinely qualified into their rolls.

As a professor who spent twenty-five years in public universities, I can attest that Haines' rebuke of secondary education is on the mark--at least here in Louisiana. Many students graduate high school without a basic understanding of grammar and punctuation and no clear idea about constructing a paragraph, much less a well-reasoned analytical or research paper.

And Haines is right to blame university administrators for admitting students unprepared to do college work. University leaders are desperate for tuition dollars and are willing to foist clueless young people off on hapless professors and instructors who are faced with three choices:

1) They can flunk unprepared students. Students whose GPAs plummet will eventually be expelled on academic grounds.

2) Professors can turn their university courses into remedial classes, which will require them to teach students basic literary skills they should have learned in the sixth grade.

3) They can indulge in grade inflation and give every student a passing grade. I fear that this is the option most college instructors are taking.

What happens to the unprepared students who go to college? Some become discouraged and drop out. Others will soldier on, drifting into soft majors with low academic standards. Often these misfits stretch out their four-year degree programs to five, six, or even seven years.

With grade inflation and declining academic standards, many unprepared students will eventually obtain college degrees without learning anything useful.

What will they do then? They will stumble into the adult world of work with a mountain of student debt and no practical job skills.

But not to worry. People who get worthless college degrees can always go on to graduate school.

Monday, January 2, 2023

'Is Harvard turning into a huge joke?' Grade inflation is a product of laziness

 Brad Polumbo recently posted an essay in the Washington Examiner titled "Is Harvard turning into a huge joke?" Polumbo focused on rampant grade inflation at the dowdy old school, where the average GPA for undergraduates is 3.8 out of 4.0. In other words, most Harvard students get As on their report cards.

In fact, grade inflation is so bad that Harvard abolished its Dean's List because most students were on it.  And this is not a new phenomenon. In 2001, more than twenty years ago, 91 percent of Harvard students graduated with Latin honors (summa, magna, or cum laude). Since then, the university has tightened its standards for an honors degree, but it still awards Latin honors to 50 percent of its graduates. 

As Polumbo points out, Harvard's grading system essentially gives students participation awards--turning America's most famous university into "glorified academic daycare."

Of course, Harvard is not the only university that has succumbed to grade inflation. I worked at four public universities before I retired, and I am confident that 95 percent of graduate students in the field of education received an A or B grade.  

Polumbo suggested that economics may explain the decline of rigorous grading. Colleges are desperate to enroll and retain students because they need the tuition revenue. They will do almost anything to keep their students happy.

However, that theory doesn't explain grade inflation at Harvard. Harvard College has a highly selective admissions process; it only admits about 4 percent of all applicants.  Harvard administrators are not worried about attracting and retaining students.

Grade inflation at Harvard and colleges across the country can best be explained by an age-old human weakness--sloth. 

 Grading a stack of student essays takes a lot of work. It is difficult to determine which students turned in superior work that deserves an A. It is even more challenging to establish which students submitted above-average work worthy of a B or a B+ but not an A-.

And it is excruciatingly onerous to hand out C grades for mediocre exams and then articulate an objective justification for that grade to a disappointed and angry student who might slap a professor with a grade appeal to the Dean.

It is much easier to distribute A grades to everyone, much like tossing out beads and baubles from a Mardis Gras float.

Of course, there is a price to be paid for grade inflation. Exceptionally bright students lose their enthusiasm for learning when they realize they will get the same grade whether or not they push themselves to excel.

Likewise, lazy students soon figure out that they will probably get a high grade even if they turn in shoddy work.  

Moreover, the value of a college degree is eroded by grade inflation. If the universities do not insist on rigor, how can they justify their exorbitant tuition prices? 

More ominously, once university culture is dominated by mediocrity, that ethos will seep into American society as a whole. Young people who slouch their way through college will be programmed to slouch their way through life.

Everybody gets an A!
Photo credit: KPEL

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)