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Sunday, May 01, 2016
Letter of the Day

The pitfalls of making college socially attractive

Two articles in Sunday’s paper — “Business schools need to throw away the rule book” by Dr. Moez Limayem (Views), discussing today’s tech-savvy students and how to make business school curricula relevant to them, and “Colleges, students adapting to major shift in remedial education” by Tribune reporter Jerome Stockfish, reporting on trends in remedial education at the collegiate level — make for interesting reading side-by-side.

While I understand the psychology and utility of the “reach” goal epitomized by setting the star entrepreneur or fast-rising corporate manager as good examples to emulate, I don’t understand playing to the student audience with dazzle and glitz. Behind the success these people exemplify is a thorough understanding of the details of business operations and finance set together with hard work and a focus on analysis and problem solving. None of this detail work is sexy or glorifying, but all of it is necessary. Will Dr. Limayem ever invite a production manager or logistics supervisor into his classroom?

Counterpoint the results in motivation expected from the guest speaker ploy with the retreat from remedial education. It seems that students don’t want to “waste” time and tuition money filling the blanks left by lapses in their pre-college education. Whether they see themselves as sufficiently competent in the basics of mathematics, composition and argumentation, and critical thinking, or they simply see these skills as irrelevant, they reject criticism of them and resist efforts at improving them. Why, then, do we think that students will self-regulate and choose the longer, more expensive education path that goes through remedial classes? If they do not, do we expect their economics professors to teach them math or their sociology professors to teach them composition and grammar?

What does all this really mean? From where I sit as a consumer of these business college graduates, it means they have lots of ambition and self-confidence but little inkling of what it actually takes to make a business succeed. They have mastered social media and can quickly find any number and variation of “facts” electronically. But they cannot separate valid data from the general chaff of the Internet, they cannot effectively parse a problem into its constituent pieces and conceive a solution, and they think that having the degree conveyed upon them equates to knowledge. It seems that in the quest to make college socially attractive and achievable by anyone, we are discarding the very things that should serve to set the college graduate apart: meaningful standards of learning and the intellectual discipline to meet them.

Jeffrey Grogan