Friday, March 29, 2019

The Problem of Unqualified College Students

Here’s another story about the dog that didn’t bark. The author, a university professor at we-do-not-know-which school, inveighs in long Guardian article about having to teach an increasing number of unqualified students. He is using the latest bribery and cheating scandal to explain that more and more of his students cannot do college work, but have been admitted because they are legacies or athletes or children of wealthy parents.

Naturally, the first thing that pops into your mind is that he is being extremely disingenuous. He knows and you know and as I know that the real problem is not legacy students— most of whom, as Heather Mac Donald has shown, are qualified— but minority students who were admitted to fulfill diversity quotas.

Yet, he utters not a word about the problems posed by diversity quotas. This leads us to two possible conclusions. He might be so obtuse and so “woke” that he did not notice, or he is employing a sophisticated rhetorical strategy to speak about a matter that he would not be allowed to speak about. He might will be evading censorship by complaining about Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

The more I read his article, the more I think that the latter is the case. In place of groups of unqualified students he trots out, you should substitute: unqualified diversity candidates.

In any event, the article is well worth your attention. The author begins by explaining the problems posed by unqualified students:

In this setting, where teaching quality is at a premium and students expect faculty to give them extensive personal attention, the presence of unqualified students admitted through corrupt practices is an unmitigated disaster for education and research. While such students have long been present in the form of legacy admits, top sports recruits and the kids of multimillion-dollar donors, the latest scandal represents a new tier of Americans elbowing their way into elite universities: unqualified students from families too poor to fund new buildings, but rich enough to pay six-figure bribes to coaches and admissions advisers. This increase in the proportion of students who can’t do the work that elite universities expect of them has – at least to me and my colleagues – begun to create a palpable strain on the system, threatening the quality of education and research we are expected to deliver.

When there are too many students who can’t do the work, what can you do?

Students who can’t get into elite schools through the front door based on academic merit don’t change once they’re in class. They can’t do the work, and are generally uninterested in gaining the skills they need in order to do well. Exhibit A from the recent admissions corruption scandal is “social media celebrity” Olivia Jade Gianulli, whose parents bought her a place at the University of Southern California, and who announced last August to her huge YouTube following that “I don’t know how much of school I’m going to attend. But I do want the experience of, like, game days, partying … I don’t really care about school.”

If you think that this is just about Olivia Jade, you have missed the point. The author gets to the point, namely that “every unqualified student” requires more attention, more resources and waste more time. And more remedial work. You probably know that colleges and universities have long been providing remedial classes for minority students:

Every unqualified student admitted to an elite university ends up devouring hugely disproportionate amounts of faculty time and resources that rightfully belong to all the students in class. By monopolizing faculty time to help compensate for their lack of necessary academic skills, unqualified students can also derail faculty research that could benefit everyone, outside the university as well as within it. To save themselves and their careers, many of my colleagues have decided that it is no longer worth it to uphold high expectations in the classroom. “Lower your standards,” they advise new colleagues. “The fight isn’t worth it, and the administration won’t back you up if you try.”

Better yet, unqualified students game the system to get good grades… because if they do not, professors will be accused of racism. OK, the author does not say “racism” but you get the picture:

In comparing stories, we have also found that such students strive to “work the system”, using university procedures to get the grades they desire, rather than those they have earned, and if necessary to punish faculty who refuse to accede to those demands. It is perhaps unsurprising that students whose parents circumvent the rules to get them into elite universities are often the ones who become adept at manipulating the university system in a corrupt way.

Unqualified students require remedial classes. Does this refer to legacy students or to minority students? We report, you decide:

For untenured faculty members, the pressures created by this setup can be a threat to their careers: it’s very difficult to teach well, let alone do the research and publishing necessary to keep your job, when you’re being hounded to provide a remedial education on top of an already heavy set of official duties….

Even for tenured professors, whose jobs are supposedly secure, becoming known as someone who won’t “play ball” by giving the sports star or the legacy an easy pass can mean exclusion from important opportunities and sources of support. So we suck it up as we recap our lectures for students who couldn’t attend due to golf team practice, or teach them skills most Americans learn in high school, or create extra credit assignments to bring up their marks.

It’s a cautionary tale, one that would never have been published if he had added the least indication that the problem was not being caused by Jade Olivia, but by the increasing numbers of students admitted to fulfill diversity quotas:

This kind of thing has easily added 10-12 hours a week to my workload, and I know I’m not alone in that respect. As one of my colleagues put it, the unskilled and entitled students will “eat you alive”. Over the past decades as an instructor, I have seen my teaching workload increase dramatically despite holding the same number of courses in the same subjects. What has changed is the proportion of unqualified students in the classroom.


Dan Patterson said...

The article brings light to an important recognition, one that will bite all of us if not ignored. Someone recently said college was not longer about learning but about credentialing, a certification that "you are now in the club".

Anonymous said...

The real problem is that for the significant number of people who have graduated and/or are attending these institutions of higher learning the value of that education is now tainted by all of this debasing of our work.

Sam L. said...

College degrees are now questionable. Untrustworthy, even.