- Frustration with student performance. I’ve seen professors in all sorts of disciplines argue for English 101 as a prereq, because they’re frustrated by poor student writing.
- Screening out younger students -- either dual enrollment or first-semester -- without having to say so in so many words.
- A vote of no confidence in local high schools.
- Felt prestige. At a previous college, I once had a department admit in a program review that the addition of a prereq to its into class made no difference in student success; to its credit, it even included the numbers to prove it. But it argued for keeping the prereq anyway, as a “statement” about expectations.
- Self-defense in an arms race. If every other class that fulfills a distribution requirement has an English 101 prereq, and yours doesn’t, then you will get more than your share of the less prepared students, simply by default. After a while, even some folks who generally object to prereq proliferation will yield just to level the playing field.
- Transfer requirements. Certain large public institutions -- not naming any names here, but they know who they are -- won’t accept certain courses unless those courses carry specific prereqs. They take the presence of prereqs as a sign of rigor. Even if we could show locally that the prereqs achieved nothing except to delay students, we’d still have to keep them.
- Gaming graduation numbers. If every credit-bearing course requires that a student has cleared the developmental level, and developmental courses don’t add up to 12 credits, then the college can de facto exclude all developmental students from its “first-time, full-time” graduation rate. It’s unethical, but it happens.
The prereq temptation is subtle and pervasive, but it does real harm. If we could get that long list of reasons down to a single one -- where it actually helps -- students would benefit tremendously.