Phi Beta Cons

What’s the Value in a Freshman Composition Course?

There are no doubt some freshman composition courses where the students have to do a lot of serious writing and that writing is subjected to careful scrutiny by the professor. That kind of course seems to be a vanishing breed, though. The norm today is probably closer to the course described here by the Pope Center’s intern, Ashley Russell. Her composition course at the University of North Carolina was, she says, a waste of time.

Would students who wanted to improve their writing buy a course like this in a stand-alone, free-market transaction? I don’t think so. The waste of time and money occurs because universities sell bundles of courses and many students focus on the end result — the degree. And our heavy reliance on third-party funding for college further erodes the connection between the value of the service and compensation for the work. Adam Smith once noted that when professors were paid directly by students, they did a much better job than when paid by the school. If we want more educational benefit for the time and money spent, don’t we need to get back to such arrangements?

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

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