The nation’s obsession with college for all has made institutions across the country unrecognizable (“In College Turmoil, Signs of a Changed Relationship With Students,” The New York Times, Jun. 22). I don’t care that they are seen by some as “country clubs with libraries.” Instead, what concerns me is that the changes have diluted the value of a bachelor’s degree, which was supposed to be an indication of intellectual achievement, and in the process have shortchanged high school students.
Yet the threat was altogether predictable once students were viewed as customers who were to be served no matter how outrageous their demands. That’s how the business model works. Customers are always right. The trouble is that students are going into deep debt for a degree that is losing respect. I continue to question the automatic premium attached to a bachelor’s degree when so many people have them. Unless students have done the intellectual work once associated with the degree, they will have cheated themselves, while aided and abetted by others.
One sign of this is that professors and administrators have become intimidated by students. The media regularly report student demands that were inconceivable when I was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. In that era, professors held the upper hand, so to speak. Students could question their grades, but rarely prevailed. The purpose of attending college was to get an education, and if professors deemed the work unremarkable the grades given reflected that assessment. Today, however, students demand A’s, and few professors want to be given poor reviews.
The sad thing is that after graduation they will find themselves treated quite differently in the workplace. I hope they’re ready for the shock because they will soon learn that have been pampered. And they will be burdened with debt.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.