August 4th, 2017

What to do about college students who aren’t prepared to do the work?

It’s a growing problem:

When I started teaching at Long Beach City College in fall of 2000, fully one-third of students enrolled came from a traditional white working-class background. I thought that was minuscule at the time, but now the number’s down to about 13 percent white students.

There’s nothing wrong with the diversity. In fact, Latinos at my college are more than half of the student population, and they’re totally fine. Many, though not all, are indeed very outstanding. On the other hand, I’m having more and more students —- including many Asians —- who literally do not speak English. I don’t know how they expect to succeed. But they’re here and this is the reality in California.

I can think of a number of possible “solutions”—I put the word in scare quotes because I don’t really see a solution that can be implemented in the political sense and that also would fix the problem.

The first is to put a screeching halt (or huge slowdown) to immigration of all sorts, legal and illegal. That wouldn’t change the immediate problem, although it would curb the growth of the problem. I don’t think it will be done, for political reasons. Plus, I don’t think the problem is limited to immigrants. There are a lot of young people who speak English—even as their first language—but lack the skills to deal with college courses. And yet they are in college.

Which brings us to our next “solution,” which is to improve grade school and high school education and also emphasize the need to learn and use English. Good luck with that.

The third “solution” is one that’s been tried, remedial courses at the college level. But according to the article I linked at the beginning of this post, the Cal State system has found that solution wanting. When you wade through the reasons given, it seems that the argument is that these courses subject the students involved (40% of those in the Cal State system!) to extra time and added expense, and the results are not particularly good. Looked at that way, why bother?

Which leaves us with the next “solution,” the one that the powers that be at Cal State have decided to implement:

…Cal State students will be allowed to take courses that count toward their degrees beginning on Day 1. Students who need additional support in math or English, for example, could be placed in “stretch” courses that simultaneously provide remedial help and allow them to complete the general math and English credits required for graduation.

Faculty are also encouraged to explore other innovative ways to embed additional academic support within a college-level course. A few other states have experimented with these approaches, and the results so far are encouraging, administrators said.

The conclusion is that students will stop dropping out because there won’t be as much extra time and expense for them as before, and the results will be just as good. I would imagine the first part of that equation is true, but I doubt that last part will be.

On the other hand, it’s so bad now that maybe it won’t get any worse. Because it seems obvious that the university will either have to suddenly figure out a way to condense many years of learning (that had failed to “take” before) into a few short college courses, or reduce their rolls, or dumb things down considerably.

28 Responses to “What to do about college students who aren’t prepared to do the work?”

  1. Oldflyer Says:

    I expect the dumb things down option will be the one chosen. Cynical? Maybe, maybe not.

  2. Cornhead Says:

    Woman from Nepal lives in Omaha. Pregnant. No English language skills. Zip. Driven to the hospital but neither her nor her drive can figure out how to get into the hospital. She gives birth on the lawn.

    Nepal has 26 million people. Nebraska has 1.8 million. We need to import 2 million from Nepal. Nepal has over 20 languages. But the Nebraska constitution states that English is the official language.


    Because it seems obvious that the university will either have to suddenly figure out a way to condense many years of learning (that had failed to “take” before) into a few short college courses, or reduce their rolls, or dumb things down considerably.

    I’m betting on that last one. It wouldn’t be fair to deny the credential just because of underprivilege.

  4. Mr. Frank Says:

    I’m surprised the answer that is used most often is not discussed. It is the Wizard of Oz approach to education. The Wizard tells the scarecrow he can not give him a brain, but he can do something almost as good. He can give the scarecrow a diploma. In current parlance the answer is widespread grade inflation. The students get their degrees and profs and administrators keep their jobs.

    Anyone who does not work in education has no idea how bad things have gotten.

    The explosion of on line education fits the need for low standards.

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    Mr. Frank:

    What do you mean, “not discussed”?

    I discussed it when I wrote “or dumb things down considerably.”

    And it’s implicit (not explicit) in the statement by Cal State quoted in the article: “…[the new approach] will have a significant impact on the number of students that ultimately cross a commencement stage with a degree in hand, ready to move into the workforce, ready to move into graduate or professional school.”

    It’s that “number of students” part, and the “ready to move” part. Note that the statement doesn’t say “qualified to move” into either the workforce or grad school.

  6. Mr. Frank Says:

    For a humorous observation as to where this may be heading, check out Father Guido Sarducci’s Five Minute University on You Tube from SNL.

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Mr. Frank:

    Or the movie “Idiocracy.”

  8. Ray Says:

    Now the colleges give students an A for attendance. That’s why college diplomas are increasingly becoming worthless pieces of paper. When everybody has a college diploma, it means nothing.

  9. Mr. Frank Says:

    The beauty of grade inflation is it requires little adjustment by students and faculty, and students get a degree. Students hit the wall when they can’t hold a job. At that point they don’t see the connection with low standards.

    The people who really get hurt by low standards are bright students who skate because of low demands. They pay the price when they take the GRE or LSAT.

  10. David Aitken Says:

    Tell them they don’t qualify for admission. Boot them out. They aren’t ready. Give them an automatic F and give them a refund (oops, can’t do that /sarc). They are dumbing down the class and infringing on the ability of the other students to get the education they paid for.

  11. TommyJay Says:

    I like David A.’s solution. Raise the admission standards and don’t let them in. Of course, that is part of the Cal State problem; their standards are quite low by intent and design.

    The most effective solution by far is to drive home lessons really well on the first go-round. I encountered this first hand. Half the courses in our curriculum included a 30 min. refresher on the Fourier transform and series. Most of the students never got it because no one ever sat down with them for several hours (or more) to drive it home. This is akin to the Mr. Miyagi principle, “You trust the quality of what you know, not quantity.”

    Although the “depth of knowledge” concept is being perverted by the teacher’s unions and common core in recent years. Hyper detailed justifications, in writing, are being required to solve relatively basic math problems.

    For those movie junkies out there, try:
    “The Lottery”, “Waiting for Superman,” which are documentaries, and “Stand and Deliver.” The last one is a old Hollywood docu-drama true story about LA teacher Jaime Escalante.

    The Escalante story was interesting on a second viewing on a couple accounts: These students were in way over their heads and they still excelled; and they used tricks and mnemonics to enhance accuracy and speed, but still got good instruction on the principles behind the techniques. Teacher’s unions are convinced that memorization and mnemonics are really bad.

    Neo almost delivered another Beatle-ism, “It can’t get no worse!”

  12. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    It’s purely coincidental that everything the Left is doing is progressively degenerating America toward third world status.

  13. T Says:

    IMO there is a fourth solution; direct these students toward the trades. Yes, there are certain math and language skills required for trades, but most of those can be learned on-the-job or through apprenticeship programs.

    This solution begins with the politically incorrect recognition that not every student is suited for college, coupled with an appreciation of (rather than a condescension toward) the trades themselves. The best professional, be he a surgeon, a college professor or a corporate CEO can only work effectively because he sits atop an infrastructure created and maintained by various trades people of various levels of expertise. That includes janitors who keep the site neat and clean, plumbers who keep the water flowing (both in and out) and even the off-site auto mechanic who allows the professional to get to and from work every day to use those professional skills.

  14. TommyJay Says:

    I forgot Neo’s first solution.

    I read that if one counts the number of all immigrants currently living the US and express it as a fraction of the total population, then that fraction has tripled since 1990. It is just insanity that we can’t cut the annual immigration number in half, or more, for a time. I believe that cutting half is the number chosen in the Trump/Cotton/(Perdue?) proposed immigration bill, that media pundits say is DOA.

  15. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” ― Woodrow Wilson

    “Robots will eliminate 6% of all US jobs by 2021”

    “Employees in fields such as customer service and transportation face a ‘disruptive tidal wave’ of automation in the not-too-distant future”

    “By 2021 a disruptive tidal wave will begin. Solutions powered by AI/cognitive technology will displace jobs, with the biggest impact felt in transportation, logistics, customer service and consumer services,” said Forrester’s Brian Hopkins in the report.

    “Note that the statement doesn’t say “qualified to move” into either the workforce or grad school.” neo

    As education dumbs down ever further and as less and less parents inculcate in their children the virtues necessary for economic success, the societal pressure for a ‘basic income’ will become politically irresistible. When people have a societally guaranteed ‘trustfund’, employment seekers will further plummet. Creating an oligarchic society.

    Resentment will then fester and eventually a socialistic experiment will emerge. Followed by the fate that Venezuela has brought upon itself.

    Socialism depends upon the marriage of two factors: misplaced compassion and economic ignorance. Only men of “intemperate minds” can maintain those qualities in the face of reality.

    Men of intemperate minds are by definition, incapable of self-governance. An external power will arise to bring order out of the chaos.

    It’s a historical pattern as old as humanity.

    “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity – in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.

    Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters…” Edmund Burke

  16. skeptic Says:

    Universities (along with the newsmedia) are the most dangerous institutions in the US today so I am in favor of anything that hastens their demise. I think the dumbing down alternative serves that purpose admirably.

    I live in Silicon Valley and companies here have for years given applicants tests of the skills required for the job. As the quality of a university education decreases, I hope this practice spreads to other industries. Once that happens, who needs bricks and mortar universities with their huge tuition? Competitors like online classes and tutor companies like Mathnasium for students that need handholding can compete on a more level playing field.

    It does not require a complete switch by students. The 35% drop in freshman enrollment at the University of Missouri after their riots in 2015 forced them to close 7 dorms and lay off 400 positions in 2016 (unfortunately no tenured professors were fired but let’s see what happens if the decrease continues).

  17. Matt_SE Says:

    The way to not be racist is to not focus on race.
    The hard left knows this is true, which is why they attack the very idea that a society can be colorblind. It threatens their business.

  18. parker Says:

    IMO much of ‘higher education’ will wither away over the next decade. There are a very limited number of slots for SJW degrees in the work place outside of public employee unions. The IT moguls don’t want them as DC is happy to bring IT workers from India. There is no place for them in the real world of craft work or basic manual labor for which they are not inclined to accept.

    Unless these snowflakes can be a media star ala Lena Dunham, they have no way to earn a living. All they can do is apply for welfare and live in mom’s basement or the ghetto of their choosing. Then they will cry real tears and self medicate.

  19. J.J. Says:

    Back in the day (1950s) our state university took all in state high school graduates with a C average. During freshman orientation week all were given an English and math test. Those who didn’t pass were assigned to “dumbbell” English/math or both. Those who couldn’t pass the test by the end of their freshman year were kicked out. Those who could not maintain an overall GPA of C for the freshman year were also sent packing. Grades and achievement meant something then. With the PC environment that will never happen. Just another reason America is becoming another banana republic. It takes educated, engaged citizens to maintain a nation that leads the world. All major civilizations have eventually fallen on hard times. That’s where the USA is headed.

  20. AesopFan Says:

    The companies pushing most for the H-1B (hi-tech) visas are currently forcing their American employees to train their foreign replacements as a condition of severance benefits, because the Americans are being fired.
    When it reaches the point that none of the college graduates even in STEM fields actually learn anything, they will then cry, “See, we told you there were jobs Americans couldn’t do.”

    Collusion with Russia over an election isn’t even in the running with this corruption.

  21. huxley Says:

    IMO there is a fourth solution; direct these students toward the trades.

    T: Sounds good to me.

    A few years ago I read an article on non-STEM grads who decided to become plumbers and electricians rather than try to find a white-collar job or double down and go to grad school or work as baristas.

    I did a tour as a blue-collar electronics tech in the IBEW. It did me a world of good to learn I could support myself in the real world doing real work. It opened my eyes to that big slice of workaday Americans doing their jobs and raising families.

  22. huxley Says:

    Which is to say there is nothing wrong with the trades and quite a lot right about them.

    They are not going outsource work to plumbers in India.

    From what I read you can still find good jobs and make good money if you pick your skill well and do the right training.

    I left college for complicated reasons but among them, I didn’t see much future with an English degree. (I fancied myself a poet in those days.)

  23. Sean Says:

    I left college for complicated reasons but among them, I didn’t see much future with an English degree. (I fancied myself a poet in those days.)

    As somebody who actually got an English degree, I say well played. If I’d known then what I know now, I either would have gone into the trades or gone into STEM. Currently looking into the former.
    It wasn’t until a couple years after I got out of school that I figured out sitting in front of a computer all day isn’t all that intellectually stimulating. Who knew working with your hands could be more mentally rewarding than manipulating symbols?

    Well, Heidegger apparently.

  24. GRA Says:

    This stuff showed up in the public high school near me. I had one senior who was strong in math and science confess that in his AP and honors classes all he had to do was show up to receive full points. Of course not literally, but the impression was that from January till graduation, since college apps were done, no serious work and grind were needed – the students knew this and the teachers were okay with it. It was coastin’ time. This school was give a “silver medal” for academic excellence by USNews, granted they were ranked 70 out of hundreds in the state so they were average at best.

    At my non-public high school, no more than a 20 minute drive away if traffic allowed, it was a marathon from the first day of freshman year to the very last day of your senior year. Even if you were guaranteed an A the mentality was sure, ease a bit, but you’ll be thrown a bucket of ice cold water during the last semester so be on your toes.

  25. Matt_SE Says:

    The long-term solution to this is to fix the source of all the mis-eduction: the K-12 system.
    The good part is that we don’t have to confront the bureaucracy head-on to win. All we have to do is make alternatives available. Vouchers.

  26. J.J. Says:

    Back in the days of the draft (1942 – 1973,) many young men who couldn’t make it in college joined the military where they were given aptitude tests (especially in the Navy and Air Force). Then they were trained in the area of their aptitude. That training often became the basis for a civilian career. It was vocational training on a mass scale. Today’s volunteer military is not turning out the numbers they did during the draft days. Many young people have no idea what their aptitudes are and what jobs they might be well suited for. Most high schools are not providing them with much help in prepping them for a life of productive work.

    During WWII my grandfather, an electrician, (the only electrician in our area) had so much work he
    had to turn down jobs. He used me as his assistant during the summers. I learned to do electric wiring, but I also learned that I wasn’t especially skilled at it. My poor grandfather was dismayed that his grandson wasn’t a natural born craftsman. Fortunately, I learned at an early age that I didn’t have the aptitude for being an electrician or carpenter. One factor that directed me toward going to college – the first in my family to do so.

  27. Henry Says:

    College is a BUSINESS, the easier to complete your degree, the more students will attend = MORE FUNDING

  28. huxley Says:

    J.J.: I celebrate my bit of blue-collar heritage, but I was not good at it.

    After a couple years, Jerry, the shop steward, took me aside and said, you’re a good worker and we like you, but you are really a white-collar guy.

    Jerry was right. Eventually I segued into computer programming and became a white-collar guy in a cubicle getting paid good bucks plus stock options.

    But I never forgot the guys back in the shop.

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