Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Raising Enrollment Numbers

"And remember: the most important thing is numbers, numbers, numbers!" "Our central goal should be raising enrollment numbers." "You have to keep in mind that as an institution we are dedicated to raising our numbers." These are exhortations that college administrations across North America keep addressing to the teaching faculty. Numbers! To hell with quality, let's just concentrate on quantity.

Of course, high enrollment numbers mean more money in tuition fees. But at what cost? For me, this enrollment obsession means that I have to waste valuable class time explaining that there is no country called Ustingay. And that not only is Africa not a Latin American country, it is not a country at all. And that the Mexican Revolution did not happen in Spain. And that there was no country called the United States of America in the VIII century. And that Hitler was not a communist. For the majority of students, this means that while I'm explaining these very basic things to their extremely unprepared colleagues, they have to sit there bored out of their minds. And the money they paid for tuition goes to waste. For the unprepared minority, this means that they will probably have to drop out after their freshman year, having wasted a year of their lives and a big sum of money they paid to attend classes they are not prepared to attend.

In reality, when we allow students who are not even remotely ready for college to enroll, we are selling them our services under false pretenses. We promise them that we will somehow magically overcome the huge lacunae of knowledge and get them to a place where they can have a college degree.

We need to recognize honestly that for reason too well-known to be enumerated here, the secondary education system in the US is failing miserably. And we can't allow this problem to end up destroying the college education system as well.

One solution might be to offer a very basic college entrance exam. Since high school diplomas are inadequate in measuring who is ready for college, it rests with us to make sure we don't harm either the prospective students or the system of higher ed in general.

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Jennifer said...

I agree with what you say, but I am wondering about a "basic college entrance exam". Granted, it's been a while since I was in college, but isn't that what the SAT and ACT are for?

Clarissa said...

I don't know, apparently the SAT system is not working if I have to deal with Ustingay and "Africa is in Latin America." :-)

V said...

The SAT system is working in a very bizarre way: my daughter is getting invitations to colleges (very expensive ones :) :) ) from US to Switzerland... She did not apply there, but they are referring to her SAT scores...

SAT can substitute for entrance exams if one limits the number of available student slots and stops increasing the enrollment at all costs.

Izgad said...

What we have essentially done is create a system of AP classes, which are classes that students should be capable of taking in high school. When they get to college they are allowed out of the beginner’s classes, which are fake college classes for those who attended high school.
When I started teaching I tried to operate with the philosophy that anyone who has taken a real high school European history class should have a basic narrative of European history in their heads and should be able to place people like Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and Napoleon. Anyone who cannot do this did not really take high school history, did not really graduate high school and therefore should not be on this college campus let alone in my classroom, allowing me to simply teach to those people who have actually have real high school diplomas.
There is another side to the games we are playing with college. The Haredi community has gotten really good at creating diploma mills to hand master degrees to girls two years out of high school. You can say that they have figured out how to outdo the Christian fundamentalists. The idea being if regular colleges are now offering fake degrees, these people might as well start offering really fake degrees so that girls can have a piece of paper, to support their husbands studying Talmud with, without being tainted by actual college.

Melissa said...

The SAT and ACT theoretically function as entrance exams. That is, they're entrance exams to the extent that colleges are willing to be selective about scores. Which, I suppose, is kinda the point of the post. It's not like you can "fail" the SAT.

NancyP said...

Explain why the Haredi community is trying to avoid having their college-age women "being tainted by real college". Is the objection the expense and time, or the exposure to a diverse population? At what age does marriage occur for the average Haredi woman? man?

Surely if the women work outside the home, their employers must note what sort of college they attended.

The problem at state universities is that these public uni. systems are intended to serve a diverse population. There are huge differences between K-12 schools, and sad to say, some students don't understand exactly how shortchanged they were until their first college semester. Some of these students can catch up quickly if in the right environment, and many just drop out. Until the non-magnet St. Louis City black-majority schools get the high-quality leaders, teachers, and social workers necessary for turning around financially and educationally poor schools, there will be a need for remedial classes at the local community colleges. The dropout rate is so high that the teachers are just grateful to retain students, whatever their performance relative to the magnet students and students in wealthy suburban districts. Yes, some college-ready students can emerge from poor schools, but there are more students who have ability but need more help from a remedial course.

NancyP said...

Sometimes students mess with your head by providing wrong answers, even though they know the correct answers. Presumably you have learned to identify wise-ass class clowns.

Clarissa said...

NancyP: Granted, I don't have a sense of humor. :-) But the responses I quoted were given on written graded assignments. Would these students mess with their own grades just to be funny?

What's a magnet school?

Clarissa said...

Izgad: I like your approach to teaching. I think I must now rethink my own and guide it along the same lines.

Reena Sienna said...

Clarissa, you are so right - the most amusing enrollment obsession victimization (for students) comes out very strongly when people ask me "DO YOU SPEAK INDIAN AT HOME." - when there is no language as Indian. You are right - the emphasis on world geography, and history is so poor here...I can call it pathetic.

Clarissa said...

Wow, the "Indian language" does indeed show a sad lack of the most basic knowledge. Especially, coming from people who live in a country that insists on being the most important and powerful player on the world scene.

Izgad said...


The Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) are in a trap of their own devising. Think of them as Christian fundamentalists gone to real extremes in terms of shutting themselves off, but also, in their own way, far more intellectually sophisticated. They wish to avoid as much outside influence as possible. They also wish to have their men sitting and studying Talmud well into their twenties at the very least (regardless of whether these men have the aptitude for it). The solution is to have the women work. Of course having women work in a job that pays enough to support a man requires a college education. In theory of course both the work place and college are part of the outside world and spiritually dangerous. That being said, college, when done properly should be about directly challenging the beliefs of all students as opposed to the workplace which is just incidental exposure. To be clear the Haredi world does not want their people in the workplace either.

Related to this issue of avoiding outside exposure and keeping people in the fold is marriage. The Haredi world pursues a policy of trying to marry people off as soon as possible after high school. Particularly with women, someone not married by the age of twenty-two would be considered “old” and raise question marks. (My mother was married at nineteen and had my older brother several days before her twentieth birthday so she technically counts as a teenage mother.) I actually know guys, specifically in the Hasidic community, who were married at eighteen. The reason for this is obvious. Single people, out of high school, out from under their parent’s roof, in college or with a paying job are precisely the people in the best position to experiment with various lifestyles and reject the community in which they grew up in. You have little to lose by doing so. All of a sudden if you are married, even more so if you have kids, the stakes for leaving become exorbitantly high, enough that the average person is not about to pay the price.

If you are interested in the general “economics” of religion take a look Rodney Stark. For particular information about the Haredi community a good book is Samuel Heilman’s God’s Defenders. It mostly deals with the Haredi community in Israel and was written in the early 90s. I would also suggest Menachem Daum’s documentary A Life Apart: Hasidism in America.


Before you attempt to follow me, I must admit that this approach, in practice does not work. These days I find myself engaging in a dialectic back and forth between “either they have the information or they have no business being here” and “I am their last defense against ignorance.”

NancyP said...

Thanks, Izgad. I rather thought that was the case. The Haredi population in the St. Louis area is quite small (one very small congregation)and composed largely of immigrants from the former Soviet bloc - most Jews in the Midwest are Conservative or Reform or American-style Orthodox - not at all isolationist.

Clarissa, a "magnet school" is a specialized school in a de facto segregated city school system that has some exchange system with outlying suburbs. Magnet schools are supposed to be able to attract white students into the district, in order to lessen the degree of segregation. Most cities that have magnet schools started them as a court-approved alternative to mandatory busing between white suburbs and black inner city. I seriously doubt that these specialized schools would exist if not for court-mandated desegregation orders. St. Louis's magnet schools include a "college prep" honors school (Metro Academy), a military school, an arts school, a health careers school, a languages school, and a sciences school (I think this is a correct list). Typically these do not have separate campuses but are given a portion of a large school facility. The schools still teach the basic subjects, but have additional activities and course concentrations in their specialty.

There's a lot of complaints from city parents about the magnet schools admitting too many white out-of-district students at the expense of local black students - in other words, the parents want better 95% black schools for the district kids who otherwise attend comprehensive schools.

St. Louis City has relatively few white students in public schools. Most attend a few schools located in the southwest of the city district, where schools have a predominantly white student population. Catholic schools are numerous and popular and mostly white.

The St. Louis City district as a whole has a high school graduation rate of 50% or so. The tax base sucks - housing values are generally very low, the people with the more expensive housing send their kids to Catholic school and vote no on levies, and most large businesses have been granted partial or full tax exemptions in order to keep them from moving to the suburbs or out of town. The City has ~400,000 residents, the metro area on the MO side (St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Jefferson County, St. Charles County, and portions of other counties) has ~2,000,000 residents. Most cities incorporated with very large areas of rural land that later became suburbs, and thus have a broad tax base. St. Louis chose not to annex then-rural land in order to avoid having to develop and service it. Big mistake. There's no way to turn back the clock, because St. Louis City is effectively the poor cousin, and worse in many people's eyes, has 50% black population. You can never underestimate the political power of unspoken racism.

Missouri was a slave state.

Schools all over the nation are more segregated than they were at the "start" of the Civil Rights Era, at the time of the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954-55.

Pagan Topologist said...

NancyP, I do not believe that schools are more segregated than in 1954. I was in elementary school then and went to a school which was all white. It was about two miles from my home. The black children in the county were bussed about 55 miles each way to an all black school.

I lived in East Tennessee. If you are referring to only St. Louis, I still have a hard time believing schools could have been more segregated than the ones I experienced. I never met a black person until I was in my teens and never met one my own age until I was in grad school. in Michigan in th 1960's.

Clarissa said...

Thank you for explaining this in so much detail, NancyP. I had no idea about any of these things, to my shame. I need to start reading up on the history of this area. I welcome any recommendations.