draft of article submitted to Modesto Bee about June 11, 2007 and printed on June 27, 2007.
An educated society is crucial for the welfare and advancement of our country. While educational quality at the K-12 levels is frequently discussed, insufficient attention is given to educational quality at the college level. Recently published student surveys provide a disturbing wake-up call that indicates standards and expectations at the college level have declined nationwide. The amount of learning in a college course is supposed to correlate with the units (credit hours) assigned to the course. Traditionally, students have been told that they would have to invest 2 to 3 hours out of class for each lecture hour if they expect to learn the material. There is support of the 2 to 3 hour standard in print (a regulation of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges states, "The course also requires a minimum of three hours of work per week, including class time for each unit of credit....") and in practice (to earn one credit, laboratory courses require 3 class hours and about 1 hour preparing and writing reports). In addition, many experienced college graduates maintain that 2 to 3 hours of studying/class hour was necessary to achieve decent grades during their college years. According to survey results, current four year college students admit to spending an average of about 1 hour out of class for each hour in class or less than ½ of the accepted standard. Even worse, community college students spend less than an hour studying for each lecture hour. A minimum "full-time" load of 12 credit hours today involves an average of 24 hours of total engagement. Analysis of the surveys indicates high school students are studying an average of 3.2 hours per week. High school students spend considerably more time in class than college students but less than a half hour/day of homework does not seem adequate. Perhaps the lack of study hours in high school is one of the reasons many students enter college under-prepared and must take remedial classes. High school and college students spend many more hours employed and immersed in high tech activities (cell phones, ipods, Internet, video games) today than years ago but this is not a reason for lowering standards. With the decrease in the number of study hours, and if standards had been maintained, grades should be lower. However, there are many reports that the opposite is true. For example, the U.S. Census reports that the average number of high school ‘A’ grades for students entering college has increased from 19.6% in 1970 to 46.6% in 2005. At the college level, there is also strong evidence of grade inflation. This analysis should promote discussion of some important closely related questions: 1. For high schools and colleges, have standards been lowered significantly so that social passing without adequate learning has become the rule rather than the exception? 2. Does the grade of ‘C’ still signify subject matter competency? 3. Do high schools and colleges need to seriously evaluate and appropriately adjust standards and expectations?
From a local perspective, data specifically for MJC was included in one of the surveys. MJC was slightly above the community college average for study hours but still under one hour out of class for each hour in class. The insufficient number of study hours undoubtedly does contribute to the terrible statistic that 1/3 of MJC students who enter courses receive grades of D, F or W. For some math and science courses, the failure rate is even higher. Some MJC faculty assert that the recent change to a compressed calendar has also contributed to a decline in the quality and quantity of education. MJC has established a committee to study SLOs (student learning outcomes) but creating buzz words (SLO) and committees to study them does not necessarily lead to meaningful results or improvement and improvement is apparently needed.
Data used for this article can be accessed at: http://nsse.iub.edu/index.cfm, http://www.census.gov/prod/2006pubs/07statab/educ.pdf (Tables 254, 255, 257), http://gradeinflation.com/ and http://asccc.org/sites/default/files/t5guidelines.doc (see pages 12 and 13 where it is stated that 48 hours per semester is required for one credit hour or 1 lecture hour and 2 hours of studying/week)