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The Realities of 'College Education'

The soaring costs of a college degree are prompting colleges to consider a three-year degree program. Britain has long granted a degree for three years of college.

I would like to suggest a one-year degree program. And I don't mean an associate's degree.

Here are some hard facts most colleges will never tell you and most parents could not tolerate hearing. The general requirements of the first two years at most colleges are what high school should have been. That is what junior should have learned had he not been busy getting high, getting drunk, and being socially promoted.

Better high schools frequently use the same textbooks for the mandatory requirements that are used in the first two years of college. If a high school draws from the upper end of the socioeconomic scale, the courses will be more demanding than the first two years of most colleges.

Although it is fashionable to talk of our strength being our diversity, it is simply not true when teaching in a college classroom. Teachers have to teach to some middle ground, and that middle ground is going to be higher in an upper-tier high school. A classroom that draws from a wide swath of socioeconomic groups is going to have people of vastly different preparation and skill levels.

You might ask: What about admissions requirements? Aren't these students qualified to do college work? Absolutely not! Advertised admissions requirements, save for the best institutions, are meaningless. Even in the best institutions, admissions requirements are highly suspect, given the imperative to produce a diverse student body. Advertised standards are what colleges would like their student body to look like. At many institutions, roughly twenty-five percent of students fail to meet published admissions standards.

Public colleges get reimbursed on a head count basis, so taking in more students for unused space means more revenue. In addition, every out-of-state student provides nearly twice the revenue. If your child has a mediocre academic record, have him apply to an out-of-state public college or university. You can experience the joy of paying out-of-state tuition, while still retaining the bragging rights so vital to sending your kid to college.

The impetus for colleges to achieve affirmative action admissions, by dipping into impoverished high schools, results in a student body that varies enormously in preparation and skill level.

Nearly half of all students will not get beyond the sophomore year, even though it should be repeat education. When the high school counselor tells you how many students go on to college, be sure to ask how many finish.

Good students from good high schools, who have not taken advanced placement, know how to play the repetition game. They cut class and recycle their high school term papers.

Early in my teaching career, I had a student from one of the state's best high schools. She was bright, but hardly exceptional. I found she was taking more than a full class load and holding down a full-time job. I was amazed. She told me that her classes at a suburban high school were more demanding than their repetition at the university. She chose classes where attendance wasn't mandatory. Was she recycling her high school term papers? Of course; so was everyone else from her class.

A student in the sciences or engineering could not remotely do this, but the liberal arts have become intellectual wastelands, with an emphasis on persuading a captive audience as to the eternal verities of professors' beliefs about racism, sexism, and homophobia.

A colleague in engineering used to remind me that in his college "PC" stood for personal computer, not political correctness. His dean was reprimanded for not sending his graduate students to diversity training during orientation week. The dean stated that engineering was a serious subject and his students had important assignments during that week. Told that he would have to answer to an administrative hearing, he said that he would be pleased to show up along with several of his alumni, successful businessmen and big contributors to the university. He then said to the diversity apparatchik, "This is a career decision you are about to make." The hearing never took place. An engineering dean could get away with this. A liberal arts dean could not.

My neighbor's daughter was valedictorian of her class at an elite, private high school. She enrolled in engineering only to find that there were lots of valedictorians. School was demanding. At the computer center in the middle of the night, she could find her classmates designing programs or doing homework.

In contrast, a hundred yards away on the liberal arts campus, a valedictorian would have been as rare as a student who didn't download a term paper from the Internet. Here most students were seeking majors that put no premium on analytical skills or cumulative knowledge. The equivalent of writing computer programs as a hobby would have been reading a good newspaper or journal of opinion. But few of these students read anything, including the class assignments.