By Reeves, W. J.
USA TODAY , Vol. 131, No. 2696
APPROXIMATELY 15,000,000 Americans are enrolled in college, although about half of them probably shouldn't be!
During the junior year of high school, students and, to a greater extent, their parents start to fret about getting the teenager into a college. Most of these students are unable to be admitted to first-rate schools like Williams College or the Ivy League institutions, but they and their parents believe that a college education, from any school, is necessary to succeed in the 21st century. However, Edward E. Gordon reports in an article entitled "Creating Tomorrow's Work Force" (The Futurist, August, 2000) that 70% of the workers in the coming decades will not need a four-year college degree, but, rather, an associate degree from a community college or some type of technical certificate. Thus, moms and dads, who foot the bill, delude themselves that going to any four-year college will make their sons and daughters literate, analytical, culturally aware, technologically advanced, and therefore employable.
In America today, there exists a goal that the majority of the nation's youth should go to college and that access should be the byword for higher education. On the surface, this sounds like a great idea; in reality, it is not.
Access in its most-extreme form--open admissions--was instituted at The City University of New York during the turmoil of the 1960s. Any student who had graduated from high school, with no regard given to grade point average (GPA) and/or the SAT scores, was allowed into one of the CUNY schools. Today, while that policy is officially off the books, many of its aspects remain. CUNY is not alone in its attitude toward access. In every state, midrange colleges exist by some form of easy access, for access=numbers, and low numbers=low funding, and really low numbers=no college. Connected with access is retention, which means that, once inside the college, the students are more or less guaranteed graduation.
An examination of the relationship among access and retention and preparation for the 21st-century workplace is illuminating:
Being there. It is hard to be a productive worker if one appears occasionally, yet token appearances, sometimes just cameos, are tolerated in college. Jennifer Jacobson in "Rookies in the Classroom" (The Chronicle: Career Network, July 18, 2002) details a professor's experience with attendance: "Some of them have amazingly intricate excuses, such as one student who explained that his parent's credit card had been canceled and by the time he'd driven home to get a new card, the bookstore had sold out the texts he'd needed." In the meantime, the student had simply not come to class. One solution to this problem is to use "click-and-brick courses" (classes which combine online and in-class instruction), for being absent online is not possible.
On time. With regard to punctuality, Jacobson's article also tells of a fledgling professor's encounter with a student who arrived late for class with the excuse that she'd been "caught in a traffic jam after visiting a sick grandmother." After she lamented "What was I to do?," the young professor learned after class from another student that the reason for lateness was a lie and that the person being visited was the late-to-class student's "out-of-town boyfriend."
After four years, the bad habits of not being on time and attending sporadically have become second nature. Such habits are unlikely to make for a very productive worker.
Cultural awareness. Most liberal arts colleges tout the virtues of a well-rounded education. Becoming aware of a culture usually involves reading. In my Core Literature class that covers Western and non-Western works, the major problem is the refusal to read the assigned texts.
Teaching can be a lonely profession when the only person in the classroom who has read all of The Scarlet Letter is the professor. In their handbooks, many moderately difficult-to-enter colleges state certain requirements, but many students spend most of their time trying to get around the requirement of reading. …