Monday, November 18, 2013
Rigor, Control, and Self-Control
In practice, some classes WILL be easier than others. Even I, a fairly grumpy traditionalist, am OK with that. I think some subjects naturally lend themselves to a....gentler experience, and that's OK. Moreover, some professors will be easier than others, and if students get discretion many (though not all) will take the easier professors. And some professors might decide to make their electives a bit easier than their core classes, either because they take the enlightened view that students need something a bit lighter to balance with the heavier stuff, or because they cynically respond to the incentive to build enrollment in a class that they want to teach.
As soon as you give people discretion, many of them WILL find easier paths. And that's OK, even in the opinion of this grumpy traditionalist. But let's not pretend that it isn't true.
What you are identifying is a cargo cult approach. "Since rigorous programs have few options, the way to have rigor is to get rid of options." As you note, it doesn't work that way.
Is that why you conflated this question with the ASHE discussion? It seems like a different question to me unless you are suggesting that a decline in program completion might be explained by college administrators making things harder when trying to make them easier or simply urging K-12 style grade inflation.
In other words, the human mind is inherently bad at judging these things. Pretty sure it applies to rigor of courses and universities too.
I also know that I've had some profs that I thought were "easy" but in the same class others felt they were "difficult". Perception.
But to some this reads as "just give us more money and we'll do a good job managing it." I'm willing to believe that YOU would do a good responsible job with extra money (or just the same amount) but I'm not sure everyone is as responsible. Legislators will have a tough time saying to the voters, "just trust us - we know best - the college promises to do a good job."
In the medical world, this kind of funding scheme punishes those medical centers that make mistakes and also those that have high acuity / low resource patients. When Medicare decided not to pay for readmissions, the punished those hospitals that were booting patients too soon without proper support and also those that had agreed to care for people with very iffy health situations.
The difference between the two industries is that medicine is relying increasingly on government money to prop its self up. Colleges meanwhile are drifting in the opposite direction with those that move the fastest reaping the greatest monetary rewards. I’d say the best move at this point is to develop a more diversified portfolio of funding streams and to define your own success goals and then report on them each year. Don’t just float with the current – dip in an oar. If you have a measure that shows what your college can do, beat people over the head with it. This becomes fodder for grants and the solicitation of funds for scholarships and endowments which could help with the whole funding diversification thing.