Provocative Thoughts: Multiple culprits to blame in watering down of higher education

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of opinion pieces by Mike Zdunich, a senior communications major at UWF. Through his Provocative Thoughts column, Mike will present new and nuanced ways to think about important issues.

By Mike Zdunich

The quality of students that are attending colleges or major universities in today’s society would not have met the same standards of the same universities 20 or 40 years ago.

The majority of students today attend college because they were fraudulently told it was where they were destined to go after their public high school poorly prepared them as they were conveyed through each grade in assembly line fashion.

This is not so much a knock on the student, but one on the educational system as a whole.

While education is a right for all to pursue, higher education is not the best path for everyone in society; there are fantastic technical schools for a reason.

It is a teacher’s responsibility and mandate in the public-school system to teach to the lowest academic level of the students in each classroom in order to ensure that everyone has a chance to learn the material being taught.

This leaves many students twiddling their thumbs and bored because of overcrowded classrooms while being surrounded by students who are bound to score low on forced state-imposed exams in English and Math because teachers simply don’t have the time to reach everyone.

Teachers find themselves forced to teach specifically to the material on the exams rather than instructing material that is more relevant to the students in their classroom.  

Salaries and overall school report card grades are based upon the aggregate scores of standardized testing that students are required to complete.  

Many students don’t have regular access to their high school guidance counselor to discuss the future, when to take classes and tests in a timely manner, or which volunteer programs should prepare them for a chance at a productive college experience.

There are plenty of programs in high school that are now instructing students to follow traditional job training in fields that are more suited to higher paying certificate programs than what a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university is likely to pay.

Students fail in the first year of college for many reasons; often they:

  • Don’t have the education to compete at the college level
  • Are not mature enough
  • Have not been taught time management
  • Are not self-reliant
  • Are fiscally irresponsible
  • Are more concerned with self-image
  • Are not paying for their college themselves, so why care
  • Believe “If I fail at this I can come back later, everyone does”
  • Take more classes than they can handle

Students are trying to be selective with their choice of university thinking the name means more than the education earned, which is another colossal mistake on the students’ part.

Many universities enjoy non-profit status. However, in the United States many universities admit those who can afford to pay in order to stay open. It is big business and attending college is not cheap. There is money to be made and a lot of federal funding to be had.

Online classes are a major factor in the degradation of education and the lowering of student abilities. Originally meant for working adults to attend college after hours, these classes are now offered to anyone for a litany of reasons.

While online courses can be beneficial to the right students, they are open to abuse by other students, who will cheat if given the chance, and disliked by some professors, who are required to update material for a course they often are not actively instructing.

Knowing these problems will not simply make them vanish and because of the massive amount of money these universities make, they will not go away.

The quality of our public schools needs to change in order for our universities to have any chance to be more selective and chose students who are viable candidates for an actual degree that is worthy for study at the level being taught.

Cutting down the number of admitted students to those who are actually qualified and not basing it on anything other than qualifications would be another positive change. Eliminating all blocks on the admittance form other than ACT, SAT, volunteer hours, and extracurricular activities would make for a fair and unambiguous screening tool.

We need to eliminate federal funding that has to do with admittance and scholarships. It happens although there are laws against it. Many scholarships are given based on a variety of characteristics, and that is a wonderful thing; however, if you cannot make the cut for admission into college, simply having the money because you qualified for scholarships doesn’t mean you need to be in college.

At Division I schools, athletes who play major sports that bring in millions of dollars in revenue quite possibly are not attending the university for a well-rounded academic education. 

Most athletes who are looking to play professional sports and the rigors of doing both sports and academics are too much; they don’t generally finish in four years. Those scholarships would be more useful going to other students who could use the scholastic monies.

Limit online classes to students who have a proven track record of completing classes or have extenuating circumstances. Disallow online classes unless these standards have been met and absolutely none before the sophomore year has been completed.

Students are, on the whole, not prepared for college today. Colleges are doing their level best to give counseling to freshmen as they enter but today’s public-school systems are the worst they have ever been. If we don’t invest in our basic education system, realize that not all students are not college material, and start holding those in college to the standard we should, the system will continue to churn out ineffective graduates.

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