US Higher Education Is in a Downward Spiral and Only College and University Teachers Themselves Can Halt It by Demanding More of Their Students

By Robert E. Skelton. Robert E. Skelton is professor of aeronautics and astronautics the Space Systems Control Laboratory . | The Christian Science Monitor, December 27, 1991 | Go to article overview
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US Higher Education Is in a Downward Spiral and Only College and University Teachers Themselves Can Halt It by Demanding More of Their Students


Robert E. Skelton. Robert E. Skelton is professor of aeronautics and astronautics the Space Systems Control Laboratory ., The Christian Science Monitor


RECENTLY a guest column in my local, college-town newspaper raised the question: "Why do universities hire a Di Chiu for the teaching assistant job instead of a Bill Smith?" This demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of the dire straits faced by American universities.

The fundamental misconception here is that a Bill Smith applied for the job, and it instead went to a foreign student. But there was no Bill Smith to consider. Parents should know that today their college son or daughter has a foreign teaching assistant or no teaching assistant and tomorrow will have a foreign-born professor or no professor.

In American universities today, more than 50 percent of all faculty under 36 years old are foreign-born. By the year 2000, there will be a serious shortage of professors - of any origin - in the United States. A shortfall of 500,000 to 700,000 science and engineering professionals is predicted by one report.

Unless America renews the value of education, our universities cannot continue to be world leaders, and we will provide less support and innovation for our industries when they need help the most.

From a look at statistics, it seems the American university is valued by every country except America. Currently, more than 50 percent of our doctoral students in engineering are foreign. Half of these stay here and provide the fuel needed to develop American technology.

Pacific Rim students have a long-standing respect for education and the work ethic. Compared to Americans, they spend 30 percent more time per year in studies: longer school days, six school days per week, 40 days off in summer instead of two-and-a-half months. Only 7 percent of our 17-year-olds have had enough science and mathematics to handle college-level science and engineering.

American universities' sympathetic response to this circumstance has been to reduce classroom standards. The number of bachelor of science degrees, for example, has doubled in the past decade. While such "social promotions" serve to soothe our guilt for students' lack of earlier preparation, it damages our ability to compete in an international marketplace.

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