Thursday, January 29, 2015

Colleges Do Not Care Enough About Students



After working with colleges and universities in various academic, administrative and consulting capacities, I have come to a disturbing thought
. Most colleges and universities really do not care about their students. They of course say they do but they do not show it. Individuals on the campus may well care but the institution – not so much I fear.

Colleges care about themselves and their well-being but not so much about that of their students. They are more concerned with their reputations and standing than the success of students and their welfare. Students are not the end focus of too many colleges. They are a means to an end. That end being the success of the institutions,

Colleges are now more like corporations focused on the bottom line and attainment rather than in creating great products. They care about their own preservation and perks more than those of their customers, their students and their families.

Take for example the issue of sexual assault and rape on campuses. There are currently 76 schools being investigated by the US Department of Education for non-compliance with title IX  for not responding to rape allegations on campus. And very many more could be investigated for not taking rape seriously enough. For example, when a fraternity was found guilty of a gang rape at John Hopkins, the fraternity was suspended for a year but no expulsions or arrests were made.

When a student reports an assault on campus, she is often ignored or her complaint is shuffled to the bottom of the deck to avoid bad publicity at the school. If a rape is reported most schools do not take the most appropriate step and turn the case over to the police. No, they try to handle the issue internally so the disclosure does not get out and taint the school’s image. Most normally, a charge of rape is investigated by a college committee that places institutional image above the student’s well-being. There have been too many cases in which a sexual assault or a rape has been either denigrated or even dismissed with a minor sanction than what the criminal system demands. The victim is left traumatized and feeling guilty from the outcome. The school’s image is more important than a student getting justice.

Or just look at the appalling percentage of students who actually graduate from a college. Just over 50% of students who start at a college actually receive a diploma from that school. And it isn’t because they flunk out. The number of students who flunk out is insignificant in comparison to the number that leave because they believe the school does not care about them enough to help them succeed through basic services such as academic assistance. Colleges do all they can to recruit students with promises of personal attention and help when needed but they are seldom supplied in the quality and quantity promised in the marketing. For example, most colleges use peer tutoring rather than have faculty provide the extra assistance. The undereducated leading the less educated too often.

Why? Because student success is too often not as important as faculty and administrative happiness at too many schools. To make full-time faculty tutor students would be to take them away from doing research or sitting on their tenured laurels. That would lead to complaints making the administrators have to deal with so faculty are not pushed to provide the basic service of extra help and/or tutoring to students in need. Student success is just not as important as a calm faculty.

The whole issue of college’s selecting students who can succeed at the school is a basic myth by the way. There are certainly the 300 name brand schools which can and are selective but the other three thousand plus do not care about admitting students who they know can succeed at the school. Students are admitted if they can pay tuition and fees. Sure some students get scholarships to help pay for school but each one of them is seen as a revenue point for the school. In many cases, the partial scholarships are just a “loss leader” to get the bulk of the tuition and fees  from the student. A scholarship of $5,000 for a $30,000 school is just part of the recruitment package to get students to enroll. The schools have figured out how much they need to provide as an incentive to get the enrollment just like a car company giving “away” $1,000 off the price of the car to get the buyer into the sale. They know they’ll make it up on extras such as fees, housing, books and other costs. The scholarships are a planned part of the sales package to attract students and fill a recruitment quota even if that student is wrong for the school in many, too many cases.

Why?  Students bring in the money through tuition, federal assistance and state reimbursements that the school needs to do what it wants whether that be provide release time for faculty, pay a football coach millions or however else it spends the per student headcount money that comes in. Numbers count but the individual students too often do not.

Simply put many too many  colleges will accept anyone who can pay all or at least part of tuition when the school is not meeting its enrollment numbers. They do this knowing that a great many of those they admit will not succeed and will need to be replaced, but they will help pay the bills for the semester they are there. This is crass commercialism similar to recruiting 5’4” me to a basketball camp. The success of the student is just is not as important as the revenues of the institution.

Other examples of not caring about students can be seen in how schools operate. For example, most schools have evening classes yet the operational offices all close down for the day by 5:00. Students cannot get their needs attended to. This is done fully knowing that most of the evening students are non-traditional students coming from a nine-to five job . These people cannot get to campus during the day but there are no or very few provisions made for them to get their school business done after 5:00.

Just look at the parking on a campus and you can tell who is least important. At most schools there are reserved lots for administrators and faculty close to the buildings. Student parking lots are furthest from the classrooms and are very often inadequate in the number of places available. What message does that send? One that says the faculty and administrators are more important than the reason the school exists, the school’s customers, its students.

Classes are not scheduled around the needs of students but the desires of faculty and institutional priorities. Faculty decide when they want to teach a course not when it is best for the students who need to take them but when they prefer to teach.. Often students have to choose between required courses scheduled at the same time rather than being able to take the both of them if they were scheduled with student needs taken into account. Most often if the school decides that there are not enough students for a course to be allowed to go even after students have signed up for it, students will find out in the week or even days before classes start. The students are left short of the courses they had already signed up for and scheduled their lives around. They have arranged their work hours, babysitting and  schedules around the hours they had signed up for but at the last moment the school puts its own priorities in place over those of the students they have contracted with. The class is cancelled and most normally the student is left high and dry without a course needed to move forward to graduation because the school decided at the last moment that there were only with students in the class so that is not enough.

These are but a few examples of how colleges do not care about students. There are many more and I am sure you can name some on your campus too. These are all customer service issues that need to be addressed. Academic customer service which is not coddling students but making certain they receive the services and attention they need to succeed.

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1 comment:

Gene Crume said...

Neal, the article above contains several key pieces of information that are not accurate. I would be happy to discuss those with you if you like. president@judsonu.edu