Disorder in the Schools: Too Many College Students Have Neither the Aptitudes nor the Attitudes Needed in College

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, April 13, 1998 | Go to article overview

Disorder in the Schools: Too Many College Students Have Neither the Aptitudes nor the Attitudes Needed in College


Will, George F., Newsweek


Too many college students have neither the aptitudes nor the attitudes needed in college

Education, the shaping of American minds, is much on Americans' minds. A spate of recent news stories about higher education should direct attention to what it is higher than--secondary education.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports rising anxiety in the professoriate about declining decorum in classrooms. Students' incivilities include coming to classes late and leaving early, eating, conversing, reading newspapers, talking on cell phones, sleeping, watching portable televisions and directing verbal abuse at teachers. The Chronicle reports that such problems have become common across the country.

Scruffy professors who dress slovenly and vent politics do not help. Coats and ties and other accouterments of dignity at the front of the classroom might be infectious. But the problem cannot be cured by Brooks Brothers. Neither can it be cured at the college level.

Academics being what they are, student incivility is producing a bumper crop of theories to explain the general coarsening of American life and various distortions of academic life. For example, one professor tells the Chronicle that when a student sits 60 rows back in a cavernous lecture has, in a crowd of 300 other students, such mass production of college credits is an incitement to disrespect for the setting. Furthermore, fewer ant fewer students are receptive to the idea of the dignity of learning for its own sake. They respect only what they consider relevant to preparing them for the job market. Only 25 percent of undergraduates are liberal-arts majors. Twenty-five percent are business majors, and most of the rest are on vocational tracks such as health care and primary and secondary education. A professor says:

"Consumerism is taking over college campuses. I'm hearing more students saying, `After all, I pay your salary, and since I pay your salary, I should be able to tell you when I want to come to class and when my paper should tee due.' Students live in a Wal-Mart society, where it's convenience that counts."

But the basic problem is that there are too many students who have neither the aptitudes nor the attitudes that should be prerequisites for going to college. More than 6 million students attend the 2,819 four-year institutions full time, and 2.6 million more part 6me. One in four freshmen does not return as a sophomore. Half who matriculate do not graduate even in five years. Still, colleges are churning out more graduates than the job market ready required. Anne Matthews, author of "Bright College Years: Inside the American Campus Today," reports that a third of Domino's pizza-delivery drivers in the Washington, D.C., area have B.A.s, and an ad seeking a warehouse supervisor for the Gap reads, "Bachelor's degree required, and the ability to lift 50 pounds."

The vast majority of colleges and universities are, Matthews says, so hungry for students, they are lowering admissions requirements, discounting tuitions and advertising sushi and waffle bars in student unions and prime cable service in dorms. …

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