Is Higher Ed In The U.S. Really That Bad?

Over 30 years ago, when I was about 11, I graded high school math tests for my father in Chicago. My father taught the “underperforming” group. Most failed at simple addition and subtraction of single and two digit numbers. At the time, at age 11, I did not pay much attention to my father’s struggle with administrative pressure to pass those students in spite of their lack of understanding.

Fast forward 30 years. Now I am teaching college juniors, seniors, and MBA students. I see MBA students submit reports with sentences such as “Acme corporation is has a lot of debt.” At one point, while teaching a junior-level finance class a student asked me how did I go from 30/90 to 1/3. Like my father, I feel the pressure to assign higher grades. The predominant messages I hear from administration are messages of “graduation rates” and “on-time graduation.”

As a professor I am faced with an unfortunate choice: inflate grades to obtain higher teacher evaluation scores or maintain rigor to obtain below average evaluations. My students know my choice. 🙂

The story is the same today as it was 30 years ago at my father’s high school. What was “just pass those high school students who can’t add or subtract” 30 years ago has been sugar-coated today as “increase graduation rates” and “maintain on-time graduation.” These messages appear to be at odds with the message of putting quality of the education first and foremost even if it takes longer to graduate. This applies to both primary and secondary education.

Finally, I agree with the article’s suggestion to involve industry in curriculum development. Universities should produce productive workers and not just “on-time graduates.” Ideally, universities produce on-time graduates that are also productive workers. Unfortunately, with a portion of junior level finance students unable to solve for “c” in 24-c=18 (another true story), you can’t have both on-time and productive. Let’s choose to spend a little more time and get this right rather than push people out the door unprepared.

Disclaimer: These are simply my opinions based on direct experience. No one has a monopoly on the truth.

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