A Boston College professor recently warned that pressure to turn out more students more quickly and for less money places colleges in danger of becoming “Walmarts of higher education.”
According to The Atlantic, universities in various states have reduced the number of credits students need to graduate. Other proposals in Florida and California would substitute classroom experience with online courses, sometimes sacrificing academic rigor.
All of this is occurring, the article states, due to the pressure to churn out more diplomas and to tie education to workforce needs.
Some states, frustrated that only 56 percent of college students graduate within six years, are considering allocating funding for public universities based on graduation rates. President Barack Obama has called for the U.S. to drastically increase the share of its population with university degrees. Some warn in the article that these efforts could push professors to pass more students who don’t merit it.
“We are creating Walmarts of higher education—convenient, cheap, and second-rate,” said Karen Arnold, associate professor at the Educational Leadership and Higher Education Department at Boston College, in an interview with The Atlantic.
Arnold also reportedly said that the best ways to help students succeed include providing them with “a critical mass of interesting peers, interactions with professors and outside-the-classroom experiential learning.”
But, she said, “At the same time we know this, we are moving in the opposite direction.”
She pointed out that while thousands are looking into online courses, few are finishing them. The University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education recently reported a study finding that only about four percent of those enrolled in online courses actually complete them.
“In the end, education is an interpersonal endeavor,” Arnoldsaid.
Newman Guide colleges are refreshingly countercultural on these fronts, with many espousing a true liberal arts education. Many have also cut tuition costs for students or increased financial aid.
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