Can We Blame Professors for College Slackers?

Last month, I wrote a couple of posts about this reality:  many students are graduating from college without absorbing much of an education.
From a parent’s perspective that’s a lot of wasted money. And, of course, there are serious ramifications for students who have spent their college years living in a Bud Lite commercial. Here are the two posts:

Do Undergrads Learn Much in College

Expecting More Out of College Students

Today I want to share with you a thoughtful column in The Chronicle of Higher Education today that attempts to explain, from a professor’s perspective, why so many college students seem impervious to learning. While professors should certainly be taking some of the blame for student underachievement, William Pannapacker, an associate English professor at Hope College in Michigan, explains the harsh realities of educating undergrads in the 21st century.  You can read his column here:

A Perfect Storm in Undergraduate Education, Part I

I am sharing just three of Pannapacker’s observations:
1. Many students are poorly prepared academically when they arrive in college. With rampant grade inflation, earning “A’s” in high school doesn’t guarantee success in college.
2. Untenured professors don’t want to grade too hard or challenge students too much because they might receive poor students evaluations which could hurt their prospects for tenure. Here is an excerpt of what Pannapacker said:
The common wisdom, for the untenured, at least—whether it is true or not—is to find ways to keep the students happy: Expect little, smile a lot, gesture freely, show movies, praise them constantly, give high marks, bring cookies on evaluation day.
3. Demoralized professors. Professors believe they are unappreciated by non-academics and they are discouraged that they make far less than Americans with comparable educations.
What I found curious is that Pannapacker didn’t blame higher ed’s obsession with research as part of this widespread problem. (Maybe he will discuss that in the future.) I wrote about this reality for my college blog for CBS MoneyWatch in December:

Why Don’t Professors Like To Teach?

Bottom Line:

Make sure that your high school students are truly prepared for college. I’d suggest that if your child’s GPA is far higher than his or her standardized tests, there is a problem. Consider tutoring or possibly community college classes  if the “A’s” your child are getting  are simply because the high school classes are too easy. Sadly families focus way too much on getting into colleges rather than on being prepared to succeed in college.
Look for colleges that will challenge your child and provide a more personalized education. Of course, my favorite are liberal arts colleges that fare much better in educating undergrads.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of a workBook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. She also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

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