January 9 2013
When President Obama talks about how everybody deserves a college education, I shudder: not everybody does well enough in high school to justify college.
Added to that, there is no shame in not going to college. Harry Truman, one of the best U.S. presidents and an astute student of history, didn’t go to college.
Because of my perspective on this, I was amused by a Forbes magazine piece on why being a college professor is a tense job. One reason is that many kids in college don’t belong there—another is that sometimes professors face pressure not to grade accurately.
Here is what the story says:
“The customer is always right,” didn’t always apply to universities. Many places still require that students assume substantial personal responsibility for success. But I’ve seen some state universities kowtowing to student demands that undermine academic integrity.
We’re even seeing helicopter parents contacting professors directly about their kids’ grades (disclosure is against federal law) and complaining to department chair and deans. The default reaction from administration is that the professor is at fault. Professors are also penalized if their course grades have too high of a percentage of D’s and F’s.
At the same time, some of the same universities are allowing students to enroll in college with SAT scores of 800 or below — for combined math and verbal components. Even among populations that might not have the luxury of taking standardized test prep scores, that doesn’t account for the 300 or so more points that may of us establish as the minimum (I scored an 1120, by the way, so I was no genius). Too many professors are being expected to make up for the deficiencies of public high school education.
Nobody with a combined SAT score of 800 should be in college.
The good news is that there are good, lucrative jobs that don’t require a degree. The New York Times recently did a hand-wringing story over—gasp!—young people who are getting good jobs in the fracking belt of eastern Montana instead of going to college.
College, moreover, isn’t what it used to be. I agree with Heather Mac Donald, whose item on why college isn't for everybody already has been noted on Inkwell. But it is worth quoting again:
Where is a teenager more likely to learn the basic and transferable virtue of showing up every day and on time, not to mention how to get along with a boss and fit into an organization — as a communications and binge-drinking double major at Missoula State University, or as a mechanic fixing broken rig equipment? Too many high-school graduates are reflexively going to college as it is, without a clue what they are doing there or how to take advantage of higher education.
Mandatory stints in the private economy before college enrollment could do wonders for study skills. If, by deferring or maybe even skipping college entirely, students were foregoing their one hope for immersion in Western civilization, there would indeed be grounds for regret. But colleges’ own curricular decisions have long since destroyed their right to present themselves as a gateway for precious knowledge of the past.