Thursday, May 10, 2007

How to Save Higher Education

One of several reasons I left academe was the game-playing that students, faculty, and administrators played with grading. The school was funded on full-time equivalent students, which meant that, while lip service was paid to quality, it was only coincidental and randomly associated with the real task--making sure students didn't drop out of school or classes. The students understood and the administration made sure the faculty did. So anyone daring to be "hard" would lose students and pud classes became the norm. "Pud" meant either average grades for no work or A's for everyone. Grades, GPAs, and education became meaningless.

Well, finally someone has not only glommed onto the problem but has figured out a way to deal with it. Instead of grading the traditional way, where no one can tell how hard a class was or how the students mixed talent-wise, do it this way: statistically account for the level of students in the class (entering standardized test scores, school and/or major GPA) and the grades given in it so that getting an A in a class filled with dullards (and yes, this is elitist, and yes, these classes exist) who also get As won't count as much on the GPA as an A in a class that demands something and has good students in it. Getting a B in such a class might even count more than an A in the too-close-to-the-truth basketweaving class. Students just there to party on parents' dimes (and yes, they exist in large numbers) might not care one way or the other, but on the margin you would discourage the sluffing off of brighter kids afraid to challenge themselves or learn important things for fear of a later grade point that might keep them out of grad school or a great job. Of course, some of them at U of NC where this is being considered are griping already but tough. College is there for the purpose of serving this society and our communities, not students, and the decline of higher ed began when we forgot that a few decades back.

But more important than anything else in this, and not mentioned in the article: how do you get employers to actually start basing decisions on that GPA? Grad schools aren't enough, although they would be a good start. In any case, this brightened my mood more than anything I've read in a long time. Which means I need to do a "Weather, Water, Energy" post and get back to normal.