The Degradation of the Student

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46 Replies - 6593 Views - Last Post: 25 September 2012 - 07:09 AM

#1 BenignDesign  Icon User is offline

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The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 07:19 AM

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As I've covered previously, I work for a two-year junior college and we have little to offer our small student population - few majors, limited coursework, little in the way of social events, and absolutely no public transportation. 90% of our student population functions at a 3rd through 6th grade level in math and reading. We have recently completely revamped our entire remedial program to include required lab hours and extensive access to free tutoring.

That said, I work with a woman whose 50-year-old husband enrolled in our Computer Science program this semester. She claims he holds a 4-year Structural Engineering degree from a prestigious university down-state, but that he hurt his back 20 years ago and has been on disability ever since... and that he has "forgotten" everything he learned about math and reading from his previous educational experience. As such, she says, he's starting over here as a CS major.

I don't buy her story (I also don't buy that this man is disabled, but that's a rant for another day). I have been fielding complaints from all ends on this particular student experience - partially because the crazy lady is perpetually in my office complaining about some horrible injustice that has befallen her or her family, partially because she introduced me to her husband as her "bestie" and now he feels compelled to stop in my office and complain about all the horrible injustices that have befallen him, and partially because I was part of the planning committee responsible for the remedial program restructuring so the instructors and tutors involved in the process will stop by to give me their side of the story after overhearing the other two in my office complaining (my office is adjacent to the instructor lounge area).

I take issue with a student who takes up a CS major with a complete lack of skill and basic knowledge of the subject at hand. I have been told - repeatedly - that on this man's first day of class, his Intro to Computers instructor had to stop class multiple times to show him (1) how to turn on the computer, (2) how to turn on the monitor, (3) how to use the mouse, (4) how to right click the mouse, (5) where to locate the Start Menu, (6) how to turn off the computer, and (7) how to turn off the monitor. If you're majoring in CS, you should at least know this much before you get started.

He turns in incomplete assignments in his Microsoft Word class because he refuses to read the step-by-step instructions for his projects (LITERALLY step-by-step - my 4th grader could follow these without a problem).

He spends hours and hours in the tutoring center while person after person explains to him how to add fractions or multiply decimals or defines a radius or a right angle.

I realize not everyone "gets it". I realize not everyone has the same skills and abilities. But I don't understand how someone with a supposed BS in Structural Engineering could struggle for WEEKS with basic concepts.

But this student's questionable educational background aside, from my perspective this is a rapidly growing trend - students of all ages forking out thousands of dollars, racking up crazy amounts of loan debt, chasing a dream of a better future without the basic knowledge they need to make it through tomorrow. I can't imagine this is only happening here. Are others seeing this trend as well? Bigger schools? More prestigious schools? Any ivy leaguers who can weigh in on this one? Is everyone dumbing down their programming to keep the seats full or is it just us?

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#2 DarenR  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 07:42 AM

I have a bs in mechanical/architectural engineering and I can tell you with out a doubt that it involved a million courses in math. I also know for a fact since I had to take courses in structural engineering and that you can not become a structural engineer without knowing math. You must take a kinda bar test to become a structural engineer which 1 part is Math at the cost of about $2500 per test and you need 4 to pass, I dont think this gentle man took these tests nor has that degree. If he cant do simple fractions or turn on a pc then he might have been a brick layer helper.... there is structure in that right?
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#3 no2pencil  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 07:45 AM

Some women stand behind their man, even when they know they are in the wrong. Maybe it's a generational gap thing? These are the very same women that have very little to offer their own future, so it's on his shoulders. She'll lie, because as long as she believes & commits to the lie, it's the truth. & if it's the truth then it isn't her or her husbands commitments that have fallen short, but the fault of ... well fill in the blank.
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#4 modi123_1  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 07:55 AM

Well that does it. Not only are the young new students dumber and more lazy that the previous years, but even the OLD new students are equally bad. *sigh* We are dooooooooooomed! Doomed I say!
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#5 BenignDesign  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 08:05 AM

There is no shame in not having a degree. There is no shame in being a brick mason - or a brick mason's assistant. There is no shame in struggling with math and reading. Where I take issue is these people are being led to believe that college can solve all their problems and that "anyone" can earn that magic piece of paper and be "prepared" to enter the workforce by taking elementary-level remedial courses. Yes, I have an issue with what appears to be blatant lying, but that's not my question.

It seems to me that the school for which I work is constantly looking for ways to pull down the educational quality of our programs... constantly looking for ways to put more people in the seats and more tuition money in the coffers... constantly concerning themselves with enrollment quantity rather than educational quality.

I am wondering if this is unique to my institution or junior colleges in general or if it has spread to the masses. Are 4-year schools having to water down their programming to keep the revenue stream flowing?
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#6 baavgai  Icon User is online

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 08:09 AM

People are odd. Frankly, engineers in particular. My dad was aeronautical engineer. He could fill a page with the flow dynamics of a wing, but every time I came home from college that VCR was still blinking 12:00. Computers, to him, were alien things that you paid other people to deal with.

Never underestimate the deep impact someone being completely removed from their frame of reference. I worked in a computer lab at school and once had to show my old calculus professor how to work the computer. This math PhD was lost.

Of course, B9's problem child still sounds like a tool. Ain't nothing gonna help that.
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#7 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 08:42 AM

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But this student's questionable educational background aside, from my perspective this is a rapidly growing trend - students of all ages forking out thousands of dollars, racking up crazy amounts of loan debt, chasing a dream of a better future without the basic knowledge they need to make it through tomorrow.


Not to speak of the particular case at hand, about which I know nothing more than I've been told, but this sounds like evidence of an economy in transition, which is giving bad signals. People respond by taking seemingly irrational acts. Many of the actions which are held up as examples of "crazy" behavior seem to me to reflect a state of profound confusion. In isolated incidents we can point and laugh, but when this is a trend, we have to assume that these people are basically about as rational as you and I, and think about what signals they're responding to.

Turning now to the case of this gentleman, make some reasonable assumptions about his position and tell me what you could honestly recommend to him - he's "too old" for many employers, likely been out of work for an extended period, possibly due to disability or lack of available work. Probably not the right end of the bell curve, but that's normal, isn't it? What's he going to do?
Well, the world tells him to get more education, and the world tells him that computers are what he needs to know. So here he is.

It's crazy, yes, but it's not him who's crazy. It's the world he's in.

Your reading assignment for next week: Jane Jacobs, "The Wealth of Cities".


EDIT: got the title wrong. "Cities And the Wealth Of Nations".

This post has been edited by jon.kiparsky: 21 September 2012 - 08:57 AM

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#8 NecroWinter  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 09:27 AM

This is a difficult problem to solve in my opinion. On one side, I want to say, we need to offer remedial classes, but on the other hand, if a person just cant figure out how to turn off a computer, theres no way theyre going to be a programmer.

The USA is a pretty cynical place, a lot of people just want to learn a trade and never learn anything else after that, and live a simple life. We have a cultural problem. Generations of people in this country saw Academics as a bad thing, we are not grounded in education, culturally.
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#9 macosxnerd101  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 10:00 AM

At Tech, we have something called the Math Emporium, which is located off campus. Students in introductory math classes (Business Calculus, Engineering Calculus I-II, Elementary Linear Algebra, some industrial design geometry, etc.) deal with the Empo at some level. What happens is that the math courses are online, but there are tutors and professors if one needs help. Engineering Calculus has a classroom component, but a large part is through the Empo. This was a money saving effort, and as such, a lot of these classes have been dumbed down. The business calc classes don't teach people calculus; they teach people how to spot patterns on multiple choice questions. I've tried to teach my friends majoring in business basic calculus when they got stuck. If it wasn't patterned, they didn't want to hear it. Because of this dumbed down math at the introductory level, the Multivariable Calculus course was dumbed down. Rather than hitting the big three theorems (Stokes, Green, Divergence), we covered partial derivatives, multiple integrals, and series. The latter of which should have been in Calc 2. The theorems have been moved to a separate Calculus course at the 3000 level called Calculus of Several Variables. The first math course I took at Tech that was taught well was Discrete Math (proofs for CS).

The CS program is the same way. I feel the intro to programming classes are pretty weak, and even the 2000-level CS classes (save for computer organization) need to be revamped. For the most part, 3-4k level math and CS courses are pretty strong.

I think part of the problem is that you are at a junior college, specifically one geared towards remedial students. So by nature, you get a higher concentration of people like this guy. The other part of the problem is that the curriculum needs to be revamped and relabeled. Your school's CS program is more like basic IT skills. It would probably be better grouped in with the business school at your college. Out of curiosity, is this course geared towards people with little to no exposure to computers (like a class for senior citizens), or is it more like how to use Microsoft Office at a basic level to be productive in a business environment?
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#10 BenignDesign  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 10:16 AM

View Postmacosxnerd101, on 21 September 2012 - 01:00 PM, said:

how to use Microsoft Office at a basic level to be productive in a business environment


This.
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#11 JackOfAllTrades  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 10:35 AM

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90% of our student population functions at a 3rd through 6th grade level in math and reading


This raises the question, "WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE IN ANY COLLEGE AT ALL????"

Argh!
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#12 no2pencil  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 10:36 AM

View PostJackOfAllTrades, on 21 September 2012 - 01:35 PM, said:

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90% of our student population functions at a 3rd through 6th grade level in math and reading


This raises the question, "WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE IN ANY COLLEGE AT ALL????"

Argh!

Because the college makes money from students, & they have the ability to pay the required amount.
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#13 JackOfAllTrades  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 10:39 AM

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Because the college makes money from students, & they the taxpayers have the ability to pay the required amount.


Probably the more likely scenario here.
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#14 BenignDesign  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 10:45 AM

View PostJackOfAllTrades, on 21 September 2012 - 01:35 PM, said:

This raises the question, "WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE IN ANY COLLEGE AT ALL????"


We're a junior college. We have no admissions requirements except a placement exam. It has been determined by people with far more power than me that if a potential student can pass a math and reading exam at a 3rd grade level, that person has the "ability to benefit" from post-secondary education. Otherwise, if you can pay, you can attend.
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#15 JackOfAllTrades  Icon User is offline

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Re: The Degradation of the Student

Posted 21 September 2012 - 11:22 AM

I'm sorry, but that just makes no sense. You should not be able to get a post-secondary education unless you can pass a reading and math exam at the 12th grade level! Secondary education means up to the 12th grade. It follows, therefore, that POST-secondary means you've achieved a 12th grade level.

This country's educational system has lost its fucking mind.
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