The well-documented woes that plague our government-run k-12 schools are now infecting our colleges. Students are arriving at universities woefully unprepared with the skills that are needed to tackle the rigors of upper-level education.
Of late, the downward k-12 spiral is a result of the lengthy and absolutely pointless Covid shutdowns, as well as many schools’ penchant for drifting away from the traditional 3 Rs and focusing instead on a heavily politicized curriculum. As a result, student learning has taken a big hit.
A recent survey informs us just how dire the situation is. While 87% of college students answered that at least one of their classes was too difficult and that the professor should have made it easier, 64% said this was the case with “a few” or “most” of their classes.
On a similar note, American Enterprise Institute scholar Rick Hess reports that 64% of college students claim that they put “a lot of effort” into school. But of the students who answered that they’re putting in a lot of effort, “a third said they devote fewer than five hours a week to studying and homework – and 70% said they spend no more than 10 hours a week on schoolwork.”
Some colleges are even dumbing down their curriculum to accommodate struggling students. The English department at Rutgers announced that it will de-emphasize “traditional grammar rules” in its graduate writing program so as not to put students with poor English backgrounds at a disadvantage. In Kansas, universities may scrap their algebra graduation requirement because too many students are failing it. It is reported that about one in three Kansas students fails college algebra the first time around, and some need to take it several times before they pass, while others get so frustrated that they drop out altogether.
Politically, colleges are an abomination. John Ellis, professor emeritus and chairman of the California Association of Scholars, explains that in the past “there would be a college campus on which a young academic loudly voiced his opinions on controversial matters—mostly political, but sometimes also on sexual morality, or even on legalizing drugs. This would offend the sensitivities of some local townspeople.”
But these days, the situation is exactly the opposite. It’s now the “professors who do what the small-minded small-town worthies used to do, shutting down analysis whenever it offends them, which is often.”
The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program’s eighth annual survey bears out Ellis’ point. Of the students polled, 58% reported feeling intimidated in sharing an opinion that was different than a professor’s, 8% higher than last year. The number saying they never having had this issue fell to 38%, a record low.
At the same time, The College Fix examined seven campuses in different states – six of them being primarily Republican – and found “a total of 33 departments in which not one Republican professor could be identified.
So just what are students learning at college?
At many schools, certainly not the classics. Princeton, the highest rated university in the country according to U.S. News & World Report, rates classics as inherently “white supremacist,” and a number of scholars educated or currently teaching at the college call for burning the field down. Dan-el Padilla Peralta, an associate professor of classics at Princeton, was profiled in a New York Times Magazine piece in February 2021, titled, “He Wants to Save Classics from Whiteness.” Peralta, you see, thinks classicists “should knock ancient Greece and Rome off their pedestal—even if that means destroying their discipline.”
Mark Tapson, Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, recently wrote that Princeton, while trashing Dead White Males like William Shakespeare and Isaac Newton, does offer courses like “Black + Queer in Leather: Black Leather/BDSM Material Culture” and “Anthropology of Religion: Fetishism and Decolonization.”
It is worth noting that, as part of the new zeitgeist, about 40% of students identify as LGBTQ at liberal arts colleges. At women’s colleges, the numbers are even higher: 61% at Wellesley and 70% at Smith College identify as LGBTQ. (When Gallup first asked the general public in 2012, just 3.5 % identified as LGBTQ. While a similar Gallup poll shows that the percentage had doubled by last year, it is still a far cry from the college numbers.)
Segregation is also back in style on many campuses. A study of 173 public and private colleges and universities conducted by the National Association of Scholars, reveals that 43% of them had programs to segregate student housing by race or sexual orientation, and 46% had racially segregated orientation programs. Additionally, 76% had segregated graduation ceremonies. At the same time, amusingly, schools conduct racially exclusive anti-racism training sessions.
Interestingly, the regnant racism has different rules for Asians. In October, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by Students for Fair Admissions that is accusing Harvard of systematically discriminating against Asian American applicants. The group discloses that, compared with other racial groups, college applicants of Asian descent consistently received a lower “personal rating — a subjective score for traits like self-confidence, likability and kindness.”
That lawsuit confirms what many Asian American teenagers have quietly thought for years, that if they downplayed aspects of their identity or changed their hobbies or interests as part of an effort to appear “less Asian,” it might help their personal rating.
So what do we do about the college mess?
Some occupations have degree requirements, of course, such as doctors and engineers, while others typically have no higher education requirements, like retail workers. There is a middle ground – tech positions for example – that have varying degree requirements depending on the company, the industry, and the strength of the labor market and economy.
Hence, if you are not going into a field where a college degree is a requirement, it’s best to avoid attending. If nothing else, think of all the college related debt you will never incur.
Importantly, companies such as Google, Delta Air Lines and IBM have recently reduced educational requirements for certain positions, and shifted hiring to focus more on skills and experience. Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, said it values skills and knowledge gained through work experience, and that “75% of its U.S. salaried store management started their careers in hourly jobs.”
Skilled trade programs and apprenticeship programs are booming. The number of apprentices registered with the Department of Labor has surpassed 636,000, which represents a 64% increase from the level a decade ago. An example of a successful program was detailed by The Wall Street Journal in 2020. Students of the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) program, a mix of new high-school grads and older factory workers well into their careers, typically spend two days a week in class and three days on the factory floor, earning a part-time salary. “They learn to maintain and repair machinery; traditional subjects such as English, math and philosophy; and soft skills such as work ethic and teamwork. After earning an associate degree, most work full time for the factories that sponsored them.”
People are getting the message. David Randall, Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars, notes that the number of college students has declined 3.3 percent year-over-year, the most significant rate of decline since 1951. The number of enrollees is down nearly 10 percent since 2010, from 21 million to 19 million. Also, 75 nonprofit colleges and universities have closed or merged since 2016.
In 1978, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson sang the iconic, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Today, perhaps an enterprising songwriter can get the rights to the music and change the title and lyrics to “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be College Students.”
Yes, it has come to that. We are in serious trouble.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.