The moment I decided to enroll in college, I had a clear major in mind: Forestry Management. As time progressed, I realized this wasn’t my best fit. Eventually, I decided I would be an English major as I have always been an avid reader and writer. So, about six months into my college journey I declared my major with aspirations to become a college professor. More recent events have caused me to question that decision.
Recently, President Obama spoke of his plan to change funding for colleges based on performance. In essence, his plan would create an atmosphere within college institutions much the same as our current K-12 institutions. Many of us, including students and educators, are concerned with rising tuition and student debt. I, for one, am happy that our President opened a dialogue expressing his concern; however, his plan does not foster the most important aspect: solid education.
How do we properly gauge what students are truly learning through standardized testing? More importantly, and maybe easier to answer, how would the push to graduate more students affect the way students are being instructed? My reluctance to become a college professor comes from the latter.
Fewer tenured positions are available within institutions every year. The trend is to have contingent positions or adjunct instructors on payroll whose positions are easily eliminated. As the push to graduate increasing amounts of students rises, these positions would become even more unstable. These instructors would then find themselves in quite the quandary. If they would pass students who aren’t deserving of a passing grade simply because of a statistical game, fewer qualified individuals enter our world as well-rounded adults with a skill set desired by employers. Not to mention, who would we then be left with qualified to teach in the future? Yet, if the instructors wouldn’t meet a required quota, their jobs would be at risk. Giving a report card to instructors filled with nothing more than statistics regarding the quantity rather than quality of graduates becomes a battle between ethics and maintaining employment. Why would anyone ever want to sign up to participate in that?
College professors spend years of their lives toiling away in their chosen field. They are, for all intents and purpose, the experts of their fields from whom other curious minds are to learn. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars are spent to walk the arduous path long enough to hold a PhD. Within most institutions professors make a much smaller income than what they might have dreamed only to have to repay student loans, and still try to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. It’s truly the love of what they teach which keeps most of them from finding a more profitable career. For us to then hack away at what they love, to dumb down curriculum, so almost anyone can pass a class is to take away the reason the instructors are still in the classroom.
The graduation rate is affected by more than good or bad professors. This rate varies between institutions because of several factors, including how stringent the requirements of courses might be. A school that would come even remotely close to graduating 100% of its students would be suspect to me. Something would be awry because there are always students who do not have the willingness to work or do not have the capability to do the work. It’s much the same as the parents of K-12 students who place all the blame on teachers because their students can’t read. The branches of the tree of learning are intertwined between several factors: nature and nurture, parents, teachers, and the students. Placing blame on only one does not begin to solve any problem.
Moreover, standardized testing is basically a measure of how well students can memorize information. It does not gauge whether a student can demonstrate true knowledge and usage of what they’ve learned. This is why post-secondary schools generally have more involved testing procedures than simple multiple choice tests. We need to maintain this level of teaching, learning, and testing to insure our leaders of tomorrow are truly experts and not just skilled at rote memorization.
We do need solutions to rising tuition and debt, but cannibalizing the basis of higher education is not the answer.
At one point in our history, higher education was reserved for the elite. Now that college is more readily available for everyone, lowering the standards of education is not the answer. It will build yet another wall between the elite who can attend Ivy League colleges, which will be largely unaffected by these changes, and the middle and lower classes. We still have to demand excellence in learning and teaching rather than creating a system which undermines academia.
Will I go on to become a college professor? Probably. I absolutely adore learning and the thought of aiding others to learn. But the truth is, if this plan is put into action, some qualified individuals will opt out of teaching. We will lose something. Infinitely worse, our great minds and leaders of the future will suffer, and that would be a national tragedy which would far surpass student loan debt.
Tammie Niewedde shares her life with 24, 21, and 16 year old sons. She also has a 2 year old grandson whose energy level reminds her exactly how old she is (40, and she owns that proudly!). In her home, you will find a 120 pound fur factory named Dexter and a few cats whom have decided that she is merely their staff. The root of her love for books, writing, and animals comes from being a child whose only siblings were books and her animals. She is a full-time student, mother, coordinator of all that is chaos, and a hopeless list maker. Most of her writing is creative non-fiction that describes her real life adventures. Her acerbic, biting sense of humor may capture your heart, or it may induce rage. Nonetheless what she writes is true to life. You can often find her hanging out with the kiddos, studying, reading, writing, and making lists…of everything! You can find her on Facebook!