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In Poll, College Faculty Say Students Are Underprepared in theBasic Skills

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College undergraduates are ill-suited for the academic rigors of higher education, are underprepared in basic skillls, and do not work as hard at their studies as they should, say a majority of college faculty members in a new survey.

More than two-thirds, or 68 percent, of the 5,000 faculty members surveyed earlier this year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching said their institutions spend too much time and money teaching students what they should have learned in high school.

Three-fourths of those surveyed said that the undergraduates in their courses are seriously underprepared in basic skills. Only 24 percent agreed that undergraduates are "now more willing to work hard in their studies," and 55 percent said students only do enough work to get by.

Education Faculty Least Harsh

Education-school faculty members were the least harsh in their judgment of students' academic preparedness, the survey data show, possibly because of their more intimate knowledge of the challenges faced by precollegiate educators, some analysts suggested.

"Faculty have always been less than fully satisfied about the academic seriousness of their students, but trendlines reported here reinforce the fact that colleges can be no stronger than the nation's schools, and that public education, despite six years of reform, is still producing inadequately prepared students," writes Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation, in a foreward to the report, "The Condition of the Professoriate: Attitudes and Trends 1989."

"There is clearly this sense of frus4tration and critical judgment about students," Mr. Boyer added in an interview. "The trends suggest that dissatisfaction is increasing over the years, rather than declining."

Mr. Boyer concludes in his foreward to the report that college faculty should join with precollegiate educators to help strengthen academic standards in the schools, with a special focus on the writing proficiency of students.

"It's not enough to complain," Mr. Boyer said. "These data suggest more urgently the need for partnership between schools and higher education."

College professors apparently agree, since 82 percent of respondents said faculty members in high schools and colleges should work together to improve education.

The new survey is the fourth in a series undertaken by the Carnegie Foundation, and the first since 1984, when the education-reform movement was just gaining steam. The survey does not provide longitudinal data for all questions because many were not asked in past surveys.

However, on the question of whether colleges spend too much effort teaching what students should have already learned, the survey shows that faculty are as dissatisfied today as they were in 1984, when an identical 68 percent responded "yes."

Sharp Divergence

In a series a questions related to the academic preparedness of students, faculty in education schools differed sharply from their colleagues in such disciplines as the biological sciences, business, engineering, humanities, mathematics, physical sciences, and social sciences.

For example, while 72 percent of mathematics faculty and 64 percent of all faculty agreed that too many students who are ill-suited to academic life are enrolling in college, only 40 percent of education professors thought so.

Furthermore, while 80 percent of math professors and 75 percent of all faculty said students are underprepared in basic skills, only half of education professors agreed.

And while 75 percent of physical-science professors and 68 percent of all faculty said their colleges spend too much making up for what students did not learn in high school, only 43 percent of education professors agreed.

'Interesting Contrast'

Mr. Boyer called those findings an "interesting contrast" that merits further study.

"Whether their standards are less harsh, or they have a greater understanding of the problems in the schools, is really hard for me to interpret," he said.

David G. Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, said education professors' perceptions may differ because they are much closer to the world of precollegiate education.

"They spend an appreciable part of their academic life back in the K-12 setting, so they have an understanding of the constraints and limitations faced by teachers," he said.

Education-school faculty, he added, "would be less prone to scapegoat deficiencies in higher education and say, 'These are the students we have. Those who had them before did the best they could, now it's our responsibility."'

Among the survey's other findings:

Fifty-six percent of all faculty surveyed said undergraduate education would be improved by lessel10lemphasis on specialized training and more on broad liberal education. That response rate is up from 53 percent in 1984.

Sixty-seven percent said there has been a widespread lowering of standards in higher education. Fifty-seven percent added that undergraduate-admission standards should be increased, and 43 percent said standards for obtaining a bachelor's degree should be toughened.

Thirty-three percent agreed that there is more alcohol abuse among undergraduates than there was five years ago, but 20 percent disagreed.

Thirty-three percent said there is more drug abuse by students than five years ago, but 25 percent disagreed.

Copies of the survey are available for $12 each from Princeton University Press, 3175 Princeton Pike, Lawrenceville, N.J. 08648.

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