Phi Beta Cons

Ratcheting Down on Student Ability

In today’s Pope Center piece, Professor Norman Van Cott of Ball State University writes about his experience in teaching introductory economics to both an “honors” section and a regular section. The difference in results is striking. Van Cott concludes that American colleges and universities (BSU is pretty typical) have already ratcheted down a long way with regard to student ability; to expand “access” to many more high school grads, as many politicians say we should, would lead to increasing pressure on professors to dilute their courses and inflate grades.

Van Cott himself won’t do either, but most will go along.

One point that I think stands out is the level of effort devoted by the “honors” students compared with the effort of the others. A lot of college students prefer to coast along without putting in much effort, as the recent study by Marks and Babcock showed. The “I can get by without working hard” mentality that K–12 ingrains in many young Americans obviously carries on into college.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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