Monday, May 1, 2017

Students First

Apparently, higher education has rediscovered that it is involved with students.  The result has been a new mantra of "students first".  On first glance, this seems like a sensible enough if banal strategy, but it likely leads to trouble.

Here's why.  Treating students first inevitable means catering to their desires and some of those desires such as getting an easy A and not having to work hard are not desirable.  Already, an A is the most common grade on campus.  Despite the Flynn effect, which suggests that as a result of living in a more complex society people today have higher I.Q.s than people had in the past, it is unlikely that today's American college students are so much smarter than past generations of college students that they earn more As than their forerunners.

What likely has happened is that As have become easier to get for a variety of reasons.  To cite one cause, if an instructor is an adjunct instructor, getting rehired from semester to semester is often dependent on getting good student evaluations.  What's an easy way to get student evaluations?  Give out As like candy.

Grades are sort of stupid anyway, but they can certainly can serve as a spur for learning for those less inclined to view learning as intrinsically valuable.  Not surprisingly, the result of catering to students has been that fewer students seem to get much out of college.  They view it as jumping through hoops to get their ticket punched, so they can get a college degree and become eligible for middle-class jobs.  The diploma is what is valuable; the knowledge and skills the diploma is a symbol of is viewed as less relevant.

Obviously, this is a backwards approach.  Let us hope that colleges rediscover learning and make that first.  A learning first approach would avoid many of the problems that come when students, ultimately the products of a university and not its customers (society is the customer, which is why higher education is subsidized in so many ways by the larger society), are placed at the center of education instead of placing at the center what the enterprise is all about:  learning.

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