The Corner


Sorry You Find College Hard, We’ll Make It Easier

A graduate from California State University San Marcos celebrates during a car parade during the Coronavirus outbreak in San Marcos, Calif., May 15, 2020. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Long ago, many college leaders decided that they would rather have high numbers of students than high academic standards, so the rigor of the curriculum has been declining.

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins looks at the way UNC is dumbing down its math requirement. She writes:

Instead of investigating ways to improve math education, North Carolina university leaders have decided to create alternate ‘pathways’ for students who are less math-minded. According to UNC administrators, gateway and entry-level math courses — like college algebra — are ‘stumbling blocks’ for too many students.

System administrators want more “student success” and that is to be obtained by getting rid of “irrelevant” stuff, such as algebra. Those administrators don’t entertain the idea that some of the students they admit just aren’t ready for college or serious enough about learning to do what it takes to master the material. Most high schools have lowered their standards to keep students content, and when those kids get into college, they expect it to be more of the same — fun and not too difficult.

Watkins continues:

Even if it were true that students are primarily failing college math simply because it doesn’t ‘align’ with their interests, that is still not a valid reason for changing math requirements. That’s because a true liberal arts education should provide students with a broad base of knowledge, and expose them to subjects outside of their major course of study. A shallow and impressionistic sampling of math and science is no replacement for familiarity with the real thing.

True, but college today isn’t about knowledge; it’s about credentialing, as Bryan Caplan has argued in his book The Case Against Education.

I think Watkins nails it in her conclusion:

While it’s understandable how students’ urgency to pass the finishing line sometimes blinds them to the less-tangible goods of higher education, UNC’s academic staff has no excuse and should know better.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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