George Leef: The Kids are All Right ; But they still aren’t interested.

Dec 4, 2015 by

An Interview with George Leef: The Kids are All Right ; But they still aren’t interested.

Michael Shaughnessy –

1) George you have another sublime article appearing in Forbes about the latest balderdash from the Federal government. In summary, what do they have to say now, and how unrealistic is it?

In the article I recently posted on Forbes, “Education Department’s Regulatory Gimmicks Can’t Change Reality: Many Students Aren’t Interested,” I examined the U.S. Department of Education’s efforts at making college accreditation better.

In short, the educrats believe that they can improve the country’s degree attainment by pressuring college accreditation agencies to make schools do better. I maintain that it is completely unrealistic to think that tinkering with accreditation can do anything to improve learning outcomes.

2) There seems to be “a sense of urgency about the need for significant improvement in both the rigor and flexibility of accreditation.” Now, I seem to be reading between the lines here- but what exactly are they saying?

The federal bureaucrats (especially outgoing education secretary Arne Duncan) think that it’s urgent for America to increase our “output” of college degrees. In other words, to raise the number and percentage of Americans who have completed some postsecondary program. One policy lever they have is accreditation. They claim that if it were made more rigorous and flexible, schools would do a better job of “graduating their students.”

3) In your mind, does any college or university truly “Fail” a student? I know that MOST campuses have tutoring, developmental/remedial writing, help with math- and it seems to me that all a student has to do is take advantage of these free services. Am I off on this?

That question gets at the heart of the matter. The rhetoric about colleges “failing their students” is utterly misleading. It is the students who either succeed or fail, not the schools. As I argue in my piece, college leaders and faculty members have strong incentives to see that students learn and pass their courses so they can graduate. The trouble is that many of the students who enroll are either unprepared for college work (even the watered down curriculum we so often find these days), not interested in doing the work, or both. If they don’t succeed, it is not the college that failed.

4) Let’s talk graduation rates—–in the big scheme of things how important is a college or university’s graduation rate—-and how critically do the examiners look at the number of majors in science, math, as opposed to say, religion or philosophy?

Accrediting agencies pay no attention at all to graduation rates. Whether a school obtains and keeps accreditation depends on its inputs and procedures. If those satisfy the accreditation standards, the educational results don’t matter.

5) A quiet revolution on college campuses is the number of inter-disciplinary or ” university studies” where you take 15 hours here and 15 hours there- and do your general ed stuff and bingo- you have a college degree?

Those inter-disciplinary programs have indeed been increasing and they’re part of the efforts that college leaders are making to accommodate academically marginal students. And still, many schools have graduation rates in the teens.

6) Time to graduation- how important is it that the person finish in 4 years–and for those working part time, is there anything wrong with finishing in 6 or even 8 years?

No, there is nothing wrong with taking more than the customary 4 years to complete your degree requirements. Doing that often reflects important trade-offs that the student needs to make. Better to take 5 years or more to finish a degree that actually teaches useful material (say, accounting) than graduating right on time with a fluff degree that entails mastery of grievance theories.

7) The unprepared (or under-prepared) and the uninterested seem to be a problematic factor in this equation. How many students do you think REALLY have an understanding of a four year college degree and it’s importance?

A high percentage of American high school graduates are unprepared for serious college work – work that means a lot of reading, writing, and studying things that are no fun. That’s because academic standards throughout much of our K-12 system have badly declined. These students often think that getting their college credentials are important – that their degree entitles them to a good job and career. The trouble is that they want that degree without much effort. To attract and keep such students, many colleges are less demanding than high school used to be.

8) Can the economic problems in America really be solved by increasing the number of college graduates?

No, our economic problems can’t be solved by putting more people through college. College courses and degrees are neither necessary nor sufficient for an individual to learn what he needs to. In fact, our enormous higher education establishment is part of the reason why the nation’s economy has been so anemic for years. It soaks up a lot of wealth and resources doing very unproductive (or even counter-productive) things. If we stopped overselling higher education through government subsidies and misleading hype about the value of degrees, those resources would be released for better use elsewhere.

9) Can you provide the link to your Forbes article so that readers can glean your thoughts on this first hand?

10) What have I neglected to ask?

One thing: why do we put so much stock in accreditation in the first place? It is because the government thought it would prevent fraud in the use of federal student aid if students could only use the money at schools that were accredited. That has not prevented fraud (the Pell grant system is rife with that), but merely gave the accreditors great power over “their” colleges. That power has not, however, been used to uphold academic standards; instead it has been used to demand greater “diversity” and other leftist fixations.

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