Monday, May 07, 2007

It's about time.

Last November, I blogged on a disturbing trend in higher education, Universities becoming more exclusionary in which I wrote, it part,

Colleges have become far too exclusionary. Note I did not say 'exclusive,' (though they are often that as well) but 'exclusionary.'

And I'm not just talking about Ivy league schools, or those which have traditionally been very exclusive. Even state universities are becoming very picky about which students they will take. And certainly ability to pay is a factor here as well-- recall the post I wrote last year about Paige Laurie, the Wal-Mart heiress who hired a student who had to leave the University of Southern California because she couldn't afford to stay, to write all her papers for her.

When combined with skyrocketing tuition costs and the cuts in financial aid made by the Bush administration, for a child (and a high school student is a child) to be able to get into most colleges, (s)he must excel academically, be able to afford it (this already excludes millions of kids) and now must in effect be already an adult. Already have decided what (s)he wants to do with life and then do it, and already be good at it before applying to college....

The root of the problem is actually quite simple. With an increasing population, combined with less and less state funding for higher education, there are simply less places for students.

Add to this the matter of 'rankings.' Colleges want a higher 'ranking,' based largely on perceptions rather than measurable statistics (though statistics such as graduation rate, first year employment rate of grads and average salary of grads ten years out of college would be available if colleges wanted to do the research). This ranking system adds another tier of both mystery and discrimination in favor of those who can afford what is perceived to be a 'better' college. And the truth is, it may not be a better college. One of the side notes that came out of the recent Duke LaCrosse case is that one of the accused students was appealing an 'F' he got in a class from an instructor who gave 25% of the course grade based on attendance (he said he had to miss some classes to meet with his lawyer). As a community college instructor, I was outraged. Not about the 'F' (I never question a grade given by another instructor, not knowing all the facts) but about the fact that 25% of the grade is based on attendance. This is supposed to be one of the nation's 'elite' universities, yet students get the equivalent of more than two letter grades just by filling a seat. Personally, I expect students to come to class and fill a seat as part of their basic expectations for the class (sort of like knowing how to read the textbook). Generally the only times I give points for attendance is in a short summer session, when the course is over in less than a month and especially in cases where I am teaching by interactive TV (meaning a couple of day turnaround time on tests or assignments) there is otherwise a dearth of information I could use for assessment. And even then, it won't be more than 10% of the grade.

Well, now it seems as if a group of college Presidents at liberal arts colleges are working on doing something about it.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A dozen college presidents have pledged to boycott a key component of the U.S. News & World Report college rankings because they say the popular rankings mislead prospective students and encourage gamesmanship.

The presidents -- from a range of mostly smaller institutions including Dickinson College in Pennsylvania and Earlham College in Indiana -- outlined their complaints in a letter dated Saturday to colleagues at other schools.

The letter says the dozen colleges have pledged to stop filling out the part of the survey in which colleges rate each other, which accounts for 25 percent of a college's ranking. The colleges say they also will no longer use the rankings in their own promotions and ask other schools to do the same.

The letter is the latest step in a growing movement led by Lloyd Thacker, a veteran of the admissions field who has started an organization dedicated to toning down the competition in the admissions process.

1 comment:

Steven Silvers said...

From Scatterbox, Field Notes from the Influence Economy...
Rankles over U.S. News best colleges list hint at bigger issue with media rankings.

Information-age transparency turns what used to be slam-dunk annual marketing promotions into ongoing controversies over news media methods.