Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk

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5/3/06
Much of "Declining by Degrees" was liberal nonsense about their revisionist concepts of an America social contract. The film promoted the GI Bill as some part of our forgotten past, yet the GI Bill still exists today. I attended college on the GI Bill and the Navy College Fund. Beyond the historical fallacies, the producers clearly either did not understand economics, or chose to ignore economics. They claim education at good schools has become too expensive because we failed our social contract. Yet, they also showed how schools are overflowing with students while they also build resort-like campuses. collapse

The simple fact is that plenty of money is available to students who want to attend college, and as a consequence, colleges are competing on luxuries rather than costs. My alma mater has a Zen garden on campus. To bolster their absurd claims, the producers show poor students who either attend community colleges or work full-time to pay tuition. They even highlight one student who withdrew from classes three weeks before the end of the semester because she had money troubles. Yet, the producers ignore the economic ignorance that allows students to make such decisions. It would be better to not work full-time, borrow money and graduate early. Alas, such wisdom is absent from the producers, the social activist experts and the students highlighted.


Bruce Sabin
FL

4/11/06
I feel college is not a end all and as many have said, it's not for everybody. I feel it is also not for every job or industry to have its field filtered through the college system. All one has to do is count how many "film school sucks" shirts just to see what's happening. Film pros could care less about the next intern's GPA or what they got in micronomics, microbiology or even calculus. Unless you are trying to be a bean counter for a studio, hard academics is not a "must" to be a director, editor, grip, make up artist or even a CGI geek. The irony is that a really good "film education" makes one a horrible film rookie.

James Heggs
NY

2/16/06
I think that overall the documentary was well put together. It was intriguing and insightful to the general audience. I think that the documentary's weakness was that it did not interview students who do not work which would have added to the variety it offered. Also, it seemed to focus on the downside but did not allow for any criticism or other point of view. Just some observations. Glad that the documentary featured my school, Western Kentucky University. Go Hilltoppers and shout out to our school mascot, Big Red.

Kimberley Claypool
KY

1/18/06
The institutions of higher education have become "business of higher eduction." While this may be a natural evolution, I think that this course propels academics to a secondary position, with survival being first. There are many other inputs into this process that need to be considered. I am an adult learner, and have taught business and marketing at a private college as an adjunct for over 15 years. collapse

One input to consider is the quality of the product that walks into the college arena. What are we doing at the high school level to really prepare students for the academic and social/cultural realities of college? The second input is the quality of the instructors. Inspired teaching that engages the student and that makes learning a process of discovery is rare at the college level. The reliance on technology and lecture is just not making the connection with students. The third input is the community and family unit, and the importance placed on hard work, academics, and ethics. There are school systems in communities that consistently deliver high quality, well prepared students to the academic community. Shouldn't this the the norm rather than the exception? Finally, not only this country, but the global community stands to lose if the decay in academics continues in the U. S. Consider all the international students who come to this country every year, and pay the highest tuition rates in order to gain an education from our system. I think this documentary raises some important issues, and I plan to use it in several courses that I instruct.


Merle Davis
MI

11/18/05
After watching "Declining by Degrees", reading the book, and reading the website, I set up a preview and discussion session with our faculty. Even if no one showed up (Fridays are quiet in this community college), I'm not discouraged. I intend to follow up and keep on trying to raise awareness of the key issues raised in DbD. This site is a wonderful resource.

Alberto Ramirez
MD

11/1/05
Great site - excellent interviews. Thank God someone is finally talking about these issues, and the general failure of universities to do their jobs.

Keith Hampson
Toronto, Canada

10/13/05
I thought "Declining By Degrees" was good, however, you never mentioned non-traditional students (such as myself) who work 40 hours a week while going to community college. It takes a lot of effort and hard work. I never took SAT's and had to learn algebra which I never took in High School. I was afraid of college; in high school counselors made it seem impossible for someone such as me to get into college. "You have to take SAT's," they said. I think nontraditional learners, such as myself, were not given complete information on the college picture. Nor were you. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO TAKE SAT's if you have a ASSOCIATE's DEGREE. I got some of my credits through Assessment of Prior Learning which is a great college program that gave me 50 college credits. College was fun and being an older nontraditional student I found my experience to be excellent.

Robert Williams, Jr.
VT

9/23/05
I am sad to hear all of this, especially because I am only in my 3rd year of Community College and was anxious to one day transfer to a 4 year university. It makes me sad that after so many years of people telling me that college is good and that I should go to a university, etc. etc., that the question comes up: "Is it really your money's worth?" I don't plan on hearing this and not doing anything about it. I am going to take full advantage of my being able to go to college. I want to make it the best college experience ever and leave it educated.

Ingrid Villafranca
WA

9/19/05
This is the best and most relevant documentary I’ve seen in a long time. I was most interested in the segment about how little work is required of students. I found this to be the case during my education. I always got higher grades than I expected. I found that I could do the minimum amount of work and still get good grades. I think that most kids at that age are not mature enough to do the work when it’s not expected or required by teachers. collapse

Entering graduate school, I expected the program to be more rigorous than my undergraduate program—and I was ready to do the work. However, I even found my graduate program to be much less challenging than I expected. As a teacher’s assistant I found that students expected to get A’s just for doing the work. There was no thought for the quality of the work. The one exception I observed at school was in the engineering programs. I was a social science undergraduate and could get by doing the minimum work; however, engineering students I knew had to do much more work just to keep up. It probably has to do with the nature of engineering and hard sciences. Is this just a symptom of the social sciences? I wish the program had explored this a little more.


Name withheld by request

9/5/05
I am proud to note that this book is beginning the dialogue that is so important and unfortunately past due. I'm also pleased to note that my university, the University of Connecticut, has taken what is promised as only the first step: a book discussion group involving faculty, staff, administration, and others outside the university. I'm excited to have been chosen to help lead these discussions. I have read and am studying the book and finally have been able to watch my copy of the DVD. Both are excellent and filled with much good information. One sad item to note: Our local PBS system chose to show the program on a summer Sunday afternoon when I and I'm sure many others had previous plans. I would like to see this program repeated now that school is back in session - at a time more conducive for people to see it and maybe even with a companion panel discussion involving appropriate individuals familiar with the book/DVD and connected with the very important topics associated with both.

John Bennett
CT

9/4/05
It is a great documentary report (just saw the TV version). The one point that I don't agree with is a minor one: that classroom conversation-- interaction-- is needed to stimulate students. Maybe it is for many; I found lectures in college more instructive.

Joseph Lardner
CA

9/2/05
I am one of thousands of "part-time" or "adjunct faculty" who teach in higher education. Does your program investigate the affects of the overuse of part-time instructors in higher education. My stand is that the system is impacted in two ways: Part-time instructors (like me) often teach on multiple campuses and actually carry more of a teaching load than full-time, and with fewer full-time faculty on campuses, our tenured colleagues have to carry a greater load of non-instructional responsibilities. If you haven't already investigated this aspect, you should.

Phil Jack
WA

9/2/05
I watched the documentary last night. I must say most of hit at home, especially the part about the 63 year old adjunct. I have been an adjunct for a couple of years now and there is no end in sight. I graduated from college in 2001 and earned my MFA by 2003. While I attended prestigious institutions who granted me scholarships, I am still $70,000 in debt (all of it student loans). I truly enjoy teaching and consider myself a solid teacher. I consistently receive great evaluations from both students and co-workers. Additionally being a professor is my dream job. Yet sadly I will in all likelihood be leaving the profession. collapse

I would love to be offered a full time position, yet that will never happen not only because of the budget cuts but also because I do not have a Phd or many publications to my name. I cannot afford to return to school for a Phd until I save up money (however paying back my loans negates any substantial savings). And as for publication, well correcting 90 papers every two weeks, severely cuts into my writing time. I feel like I am in a unique position because that dream of getting a solid, well paying job with benefits by obtaining a college degree has been hampered by the debt I accrued while in college. On top of that I am encouraging students to do the same. I am telling them that college is worth their time and money, even if it means debt in the long run. I was one of those students who wasn't exactly poor but wasn't middle class either. I had to work many hours a week to pay my way through both undergraduate and graduate school. I loved my experiences at both schools and want to pass that on to my students. Yet I cannot do so with the amount of money I make, the lack of benefits and now the rising gas prices (I drive almost 500 miles per week during the semester). One of the schools I teach at is no longer requiring adjuncts to hold office hours because there is no longer office space for us (not even shared spa! ce). It makes me very sad to realize that unless something changes I will have to leave this profession and find another way to put my teaching skills to good use.


Name withheld by request

8/23/05
I have just finished watching the documentary "Declining by Degrees" and thought the message it presented is what myself and others from the rest of the developed world had suspected: that universities in the US do not produce independent thinkers but those who take the 'path of least resistance'. I have come from Australia, where a culture of students taking a degree of responsibility for their own learning prevails. I have been dismayed by the complete lack of critical thinking, basic literacy and a general 'follow the pack' attitude that many university graduates seem to display. Writing skills and just basic literacy seem to be sorely lacking in many, to the point that I wonder if these are a part of the general education system at all. An entitlement mentality precedes many (not all) that enter university that says turning up to class should grant them an A or at least a B. It must be a very frustrating experience for those students who genuinely put in the work but are not as bright or hampered by having to work as well, sitting beside other students who breeze through and show no application or effort whatsoever. collapse

The majority of jobs being created in the economy now and into the future will be in the knowledge sector where the skills of critical thinking, cross disciplinary problem solving and lateral thought will be highly sought after and rewarded. Many institutions do not seem to realize that it is not enough for students to get a degree, they must learn how to take control of their own learning for the rest of their lives if they wish to be professionally employed in these industries, usually in the science and engineering fields. It is less important for those graduating to know how to solve a fourth order differential equation, or in general regurgitate information, than it is to learn how to manage a multi-national team, effectively delegate tasks to those working under them, communicate technical ideas to non-technical people and to take a strategic perspective of how they fit into the larger organization in which they work. The most basic tenet that university can instill in a graduate is a willingness to learn, to put them into a mode of operation that sees them looking for new experiences, constantly questioning 'why?', taking in information, interpreting it and using it in ways that furthers their or their organization’s objectives. Many say that something needs to be done lest institutions of higher learning lose their way. I'd suggest that that's already happened and it's up to individuals to stop waiting for others to show them the way, be pro-active and take responsibility for their own learning. The future's going to be a very prosperous place for those who are willing to take responsibility; they'll have the lion's share. For those who are passive and just react to circumstance instead of creating it, they'll get what's left.


Reece Lumsden
CA

8/11/05
I saw your documentary and was impressed enough to buy the book and the video. Only fleeting mention is made in the essays is the role of online learning, which has the potential to remedy many of the ills described in your book. Let me explain.

Online learning was catapulted into fame by the Internet but dominated by IT professionals, blissfully unaware of the importance of pedagogy ­ how students actually learn, and the vital role of professors. Unfortunately, most online learning is a sorry compilation of professors' notes and slides, with limited ability to adapt to each student's needs or to measure the students learning and grasp of key concepts. Much of what passes as online learning is provided by "Content Management Systems", which do little more than provide an administrative framework, and do nothing to advance student learning per se. Small wonder that drop out rates (from online courses) are around 50%, that faculty workloads (to answer student email questions) actually increase with online learning. To my knowledge, none of the current online courses (with one exception) meet NEASC's "Best Practices for Electronic Offered Degree and Certificate Programs". collapse

Properly designed online programs, adapting to the needs of individual students, and blending online instruction with face-to-face instruction represent a quantum jump in learning. The time of the professor is thus freed for higher level discussions with properly prepared students. Courses that adapt to each individual and provide feedback on her or his progress, create a substantial jump in student engagement. Dr. Sonwalkar, Principal Education Architect at MIT, spent five years researching how students learn and, only then, developed the computer software to make his research a reality. The software provides for concept maps, diagnostic quizzes, learning styles that automatically adapt to each student, and a complete range of reports on each student. When pedagogy is the driver, the number of email questions from students is cut by two thirds, with completion rates in the ninetieth percentile. A useful by product is that overall costs are reduced by 50%, potentially solving one of higher educations most pressing problems. Dr. Sonwalkar can be reached at nish@mit.edu. He is the author of numerous publications on pedagogy and online learning and author of Changing the Interface of Education with Revolutionary Learning Technologies: (iUniverse, Inc. 2005)


Don Hutchinson

8/9/05
I saw the documentary on PBS about a month ago and thought it was absolutely fantastic. I hope to purchase the video and show it to the freshmen enrolled in the course I am teaching this fall, as part of my course. I think we will just watch the first hour and 15 minutes, not the whole 2 hours. It should make for some very interesting discussion afterwards!

Name withheld by request

8/1/05
I have a program that follows student through the college process for four years. Professors are working with us to improve the quality of education and monitoring our students for success.

Mary Wayman
IL

7/28/05
An excellent documentary overall. Although, I have to say, that having personally observed Dr. Kurzer in the classroom, I felt that the documentary did her an enormous injustice. It was apparent to me that she is diligent in doing everything possible to engage her students, despite the apathy of a great majority of the undergraduates. Her lectures are both interesting and entertaining and she obviously devotes significant time to developing classroom experiences that will engage her students. When I've attended her lectures, I've found them to be insightful and thought provoking. I also know that she goes the extra mile to extend help to any student who requests it, to the point of making special trips into her office to meet with students at their request. The documentary suggested that she didn't stop her lectures frequently to ask if there were any questions. While that may have been true of the lecture witnessed by the documentary maker, it is ludicrous to suggest that a lecture for hundreds of students take the form of a discussion session. I wish the documentary makers had chosen also to film Dr. Kurzer in a one-on-one session with one of her students. It would have painted a more accurate picture of the caring and compassionate teacher that she is.

Name withheld by request

7/27/05
I loved this documentary when I saw it a month or so ago. I've told so many people about it. I hope it is aired more frequently than I've been able to find it. Even though I graduated almost 10 years ago from college, I completely related to the attitude of the students (and faculty for that matter) in this program.

I entered college with an expectation that I would have to "buckle down", and it actually turned out to be a breeze. Basically, I showed up, did a little work, and graduated with a 3.4 GPA. Today, I have a good job that I needed a degree to get, but could be doing with the knowledge I had in high school. Really, it is appalling, and I applaud you for making this documentary to finally shed some light on this waste of four years of young people's academic lives.

Diane Tarr
OH

7/21/05
What a compelling program. It should be mandatory viewing for everyone on campuses throughout the USA. The companion book and the video provide important and powerful new insights into the growing crisis in academe. There are only two things that could have been added had you had more time... collapse

First, it was not really pointed out that so much of the "research" that faculty publish for fear of perishing is simply pseudoscience. I and others have documented this in educational research on numerous occasions, and I know it is a flaw in most social science research conducted by academics. The benefits of this research for the public at large are dubious at best. As I have written, it is time to put the "public" back in publication.

Second, while you did discuss the workload of the community college instructor, I think few people understand the hours worked by faculty in research universities. The best research indicates that faculty in research universities average 57 hours of work per week, but my colleagues and I find this to be an underestimation. Being a professor has evolved into a job that is never done, and 70-80 plus hours weeks are the norm.

But the bottom line is that your video and book should be a wakeup call for academe.


Thomas C. Reeves, Ph.D

7/21/05
I was amazed at how familiar these stories were. I have heard these EXACT points of view for years, coming from my friends, co-workers, students, and professors, but never heard them reflected in the media. Thank you for making such an important and honest film.

Mary Bokkon

7/19/05
On this site I read the comments of those who appear to be surprised that some students may be unprepared for college. If we had been keeping up with US Department of Education, National Assessments of Education Progress (NAEP) studies, we wouldn't be surprised. These studies, which are published every other year (I believe) assess 4th, 8th and 12th grade students, with regard to Math, Science, and Reading, according to "authentic" instruments, rather than "normed" measurements

(The students of Lake Woebegone, who according to Garrison Keeler, "are all above average," are obviously assessed with a "normed" measuring instrument. Figures don't lie but liars sure can figure.)collapse

I find the NAEP reading results most telling... 70% of our students can NOT read (competently comprehend) their own textbooks, only 30% can and only 5% are reading beyond their own grade level. What is beyond the grade level of a 12th grader?

Apparently, DOE and the NAEP studies have been telling us that only 5% of 12th graders can read at college level.

If this is the case, if the majority of our college freshmen cannot read their own textbooks, how can we expect them to succeed in college? Obviously, they can not and they don't! By sending our freshmen children and money to schools where so many will drop out because they are unprepared, is our money just funding graduate classes and professors who work only a fraction of the hours we work to pay that tuition?

So, why does our reading skill curriculum end in the 3rd or 4th grade? If boys are not normally ready to begin reading until 2-3 years after girls are ready, practically speaking, do boys receive only 1 or 2 years of reading instruction? And why are the NAEP studies published in secret now, and why are the results so difficult to find?

If the pond that is higher education is dirty and stinks, perhaps we should look up stream. If 70% of our students are failing to learn to read well enough to read their own textbooks, should we be awarding and rewarding their teachers and that system? Do teachers go home crying because they have failed to teach 70% of our students to read well enough to read their own text books?

Does our education system produce good readers or does our system produce average and below average readers... readers who don't read well enough to enjoy reading, readers who don't read well enough to want to practice the skills of reading that can enable them to improve their reading skills? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

If our system doesn't produce good and excellent readers, how are they produced? Do our reading skills reflect our intelligence? Wasn't Einstein dyslexic?

If the system is broken, why do we continue supporting it? If the system is broken who should be fixing it? Should it be those who appear to be quite satisfied with a 5% or even 30% success rate? If you had 10 children or grandchildren, would you be satisfied with a system that fails to teach 9 or even 7 of them? What business could succeed with those numbers? When we pay a business for a service, do we expect results? What is the largest business in nearly every state?


Stephen Behunin

7/18/05
I am a junior faculty member at the University of Arizona. I thought the documentary was very well balanced, placing responsibility on federal, state, and university administration. It is true that, while the university tells parents that teaching is our highest priority, junior faculty are told that teaching is not important for tenure. I enjoy teaching; the reward is instantaneous (unlike publishing and bringing in grant moneys, which can take months). And, I dislike teaching large classes as much as my students despise taking them. I try to foster a small-class feel as much as possible, encouraging participation in lecture, pausing to make sure they understand concepts, asking for demonstration volunteers, asking questions, etc; but I hate that I am not given the chance to get to know them personally.

Name withheld by request

7/14/05
I saw your 2-hour PBS presentation a couple of weeks ago. I watched with dismay and sadness. Having had the experience of teaching at 2 universities, seeing the current state of higher education is disheartening.

I'm now retired, but our 18-year-old grandson will be starting his university experience this autumn. I'm concerned about what he will encounter.

Also of great concern to me is the growth of what I consider bogus degree mills, the University of Phoenix for example. I applied for a position to teach statistics at the local campus and was accepted. I turned down the opportunity when I learned that the course was taught in 20 hours, 4 hours a night from 6 to 10 p.m. It is my opinion that no one can adequately learn a subject under such circumstances, especially if one has put in an 8-hour day at a full-time job. I suggest that an expose of these degree mills be telecast. Do businesses actually accept certificates as adequate from such instruction?

A. C. Singer

7/9/05
This is a terrific topic and glad to see that PBS is taking on what has generally been considered a liberal haven - higher education. The hope and promise of higher education in America is jeopardized by the ambitions of career academics more concerned about building their resumes for their next college job, then they are about raising standards, improving the quality of the student experience or controlling costs and ensuring access to qualified students. This is important work that needs attention by not just society but also the academics that have created the crisis we face today.

Name withheld by request

7/8/05
I have to congratulate for preparing this excellent documental. However there was one topic that you didn't point out. I am referring to the high power that undergraduate students have against their international teaching assistants. I, as a graduate student, and many of my friends from other fields experienced the pressure that undergraduates put on our shoulders when they do not get a higher grade. collapse

I got my undergraduate education in South America and when I was an undergraduate I had to work very hard in order to get good grades. I heard similar experience by students from Asia, Europe and Africa. So, when we (international grad students) came to the USA higher education system, we had a bad experience and got disappointed about the lack of interest that American undergraduate students show in our classes. From my own experience I had to decrease the level of the class in order that they be "happy" because if I keep the high standard I can be threaten, accused of discrimination or lack of preparation which will be at the end affecting my TA position. I actually read in my university newspaper an accusation from an undergrad to a Chinese TA to be an unprepared TA. The true of the story was that this undergrad was doing very badly in this class so he found a way to threaten his TA. So, at the end, in order to avoid the problem, most of the TA just have to follow the USA university system which consist in please your client" "the student" because if not you can be taken out from the system. This is very sad situation because you feel that you (as an educator) are cheating the principles that you learned as an undergraduate in your home country.


Name withheld by request

7/8/05
The current (July-August 2005) issue of the Harvard Magazine features a fine piece, "Deep into Sleep," reminding one how extensively lack of sleep impairs performance: "[y]our ability to do critical thinking takes a massive hit--you're knocking out the frontal-cortex functions," and "being awake more than 24 hours impairs performance as much as having a blood-alcohol level of 0.1 percent--which is legally drunk."

But isn't this precisely the state in which physicians are "trained"--all the more tragic inasmuch as patients are deliberately and unnecessarily put at risk. Why not turn your attention next to the flaws of graduate-level education? What you find may well make "Declining by Degrees" look like a G-rated film.

Ferdinand Gajewski, PhD

7/8/05
On my father's side, I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school so the idea of me attending college and graduating, with honors, was shocking and exciting. Attending a large public university was daunting and I wondered countlessly if I were going to finish. In order to make my time more enjoyable I joined a multitude of organizations on campus and held a variety of leadership positions. Because college graduation wasn't expected of me, I performed very well in the classroom in order to prove others wrong. Many of my classmates had a different perspective on college. Some of them were the sons of daughters of affluent doctors, lawyers or businessman and knew that upon graduation they would be taken care. My future was uncertain, but I knew I wanted to work with people and also wanted a graduate degree. I am now a second year Master of Social Work student at the University of Michigan working with families and youth. I'm also applying to PhD programs in education. Getting to this point was a challenge, but because I had a very supportive family and a helping of motivation and ambition opportunities came forth.

Desmond Patton
MI

7/7/05
WOW! Excellent program! Astonishing! I watched in rapt fascination as this excellent program dispelled some of the major myths about the great American dream of college. I have a child in college, and this really made things clear. I'm going to have him watch it. I feel you left out only one critical part of the equation... the PARENTS! As a parent I'm very mad to think that all that money is just being squandered on a system where teachers are NOT rewarded to teach, but only to do research. I'm looking to do something about it now by getting some kind of college PTA group going. THANKS for such a FABULOUS PROGRAM!


7/7/05
Your program on Higher Education at Risk did an excellent job of spelling out many of the problems higher education faces today. As a recent college graduate in 2004, I have witnessed first hand many of facts and issues that you discovered during your two-year tour of universities. Unless college presidents and federal, state, and local politicians get their act together, we will continue to fall behind those students abroad.

Brian Ferrara
PA

7/7/05
I watched your program, "Declining by Degrees", with great interest. Your presentation of the issues and challenges facing higher education was interesting and provocative. However, there is another side to your story on what institutions of higher education are doing to address these challenges. The National Consortium on Continuous Improvement in Higher Education (NCCI) advances sustainable excellence in higher education by promoting the practice and discipline of continuous improvement across all academic and administrative functions. More information on NCCI can be found at our website at: http://www.ncci-cu.org/.

As chair of this year's annual program committee, I am extending an open invitation for you to attend our annual conference to cover institutional responses to the challenges outlined in your program. This year's conference is being held in Baltimore, MD at the Marriott Waterfront Hotel from July 8-10. Attached is the program. Better coverage of what is happening on the positive side of the ledger may lend some balance to the conversation on improving higher education in the U.S.

Chet Warzynski

7/7/05
Congratulations on putting together a great documentary on the current status of higher education. Seeing what goes on in the majority of colleges and universities makes one appreciate the unique opportunities to learn offered by Dartmouth and its small peer group. The clip on Amherst certainly was a contrast to the situations at Arizona and Western Kentucky.

I rather liked Prof. Tom Fleming and his style of teaching. It's a shame that his niche of teaching astronomy to non-science majors prevents him from being on the tenure track. I guess the adage "publish or perish" that we heard as undergraduates is even more prevalent today (based on what the professors in "Declining by Degrees" had to say, it's a professor's marching orders for advancement). I also experienced a sort of "love/hate" reaction to Prof. Paulette Kurzer. The former because she has become a realist in how our deteriorating system operates (both student and professor compromise on what they expect from each other). The latter because she doesn't seem connected to her students and feels no need to instill a desire to learn or expand the boundaries of knowledge in those she teaches.

As your documentary so aptly points out, the real crime is the reduced educational funding that is being made available to those students who need it. We seem to be moving on the down side of the curve as more students who need grants (in addition to loans) are unable to get enough aid to receive higher education. This is a loss we, as a society, can never recoup.


7/6/05
High schools are in serious troubles because of their boring lectures and obsolete system. Many books, and movies must be made with real life situations in order to inform people and create the awareness to have a change.


7/4/05
I found the program very interesting and accurate. I stayed up until 2:30am to watch the re-airing last weekend. I am a junior at the University of Texas at Austin and I can attest to the sames types of situations. Dont get me wrong, I love it there, but I feel that we aren't really being taught to think but to memorize and master a multiple choice test. I feel also that professors are more interested in research than teaching students. I am also borrowing several thousands to attend each year. My freshman year, I had to take out at 12,000+ loan to cover my expenses. I hope they show this program again so others will be able to see it.

Chris Garcia
TX

7/3/05
I just watched the documentary "Declining by Degrees." I was able to relate to the issue of students attending local community colleges because they could not afford to go to a 4-year university. When I was in high school, I knew what was my path (community college and going to a regional 4-year state university) because I was going to have to pay for college myself and get help through pell grants. I almost did not receive my my bachelors degree because I felt lost (as with many other community college transfer students). I attended college at one of the 23 campuses that are a part of the California State University system. There were no programs for transfer students and I had to find my own way to survive. I have my 4-year degree but know many other transfer students were not as fortunate. collapse

I currently work for the university I received my bachelors degree. My position is paid for by a grant. Through my observation I see how overworked the professors and staff are at the CSU campus I work for at this time. The grant that is funding my position is an administrative position to support a much needed graduate academic program in the community. If it was not for outside funding, this new graduate academic program would not exist. My job is so stressful...looking at the budget, looking for more money, and not to mention I have NO job security. I will only have a job IF there is continued funding. My dreams of working in higher education are starting to fade because I am no longer sure if I can handle the pressure and stress. I am sick almost on a weekly basis. I am thinking about leaving higher education, but I am not sure at this time. I do enjoy working with the students.


Name withheld by request

7/3/05
I am an undergrad at a Californian college and I just wanted to address the issue of "drifting through college." No student should be able to "scan chapters" before a test and then make the dean's list. This is the fault of the professors more than anyone else. As one of these "test killing" students myself, I know from experience that it only happens with professors who use poorly designed exams.collapse As for the problem of higher education, I haven't watched the documentary, but let's face it: The high school and college atmosphere that young kids create and universities promote just isn't conducive to academic learning. Academics have been put on the backburner so that we can promote social butterflies and the NCAA. I'm sorry but when companies are complaining that students are unprepared for the job then the incoming freshmen aren't going to help with 10 extracurricular activities. I knew many people from high school who loved learning and achieved highly academically but didn't have true inspiration for an extracurricular activity. Unfortunately they were either rejected from or didn't apply to great schools because a dumb blonde that cheerleads apparently has more potential for being outgoing. The truth is that anyone can out of the blue decide to participate in the community, but the pursuit of knowledge and growth takes time to instill. Universities' admission! ons need to care more about who students are and what they think (ala the essay) than what they do.

Name withheld by request

7/2/05
I was on faculty at BYU for 14 years before leaving to attend law school. As the prelaw advisor there, I became (among prelaw advisors) an expert in financial aid. I saw exactly what your show illustrates in terms of the stress of debt and the cost of education in my students. I created the only debt and career management conference that I am aware of for my prelaw students. Each year over 200 students, spouses, and parents attended our conference where I recruited speakers and experts to teach my students how to manage their educational, credit, and debt choices so that they could continue on to law school and have a productive career after graduation. These issues are incredibly important. It's too bad that legislatures have shifted to using resources to support other kinds of entities at the expense of educating future leaders and workers of America.

Eileen Crane
UT

7/2/05
Your documentary does a good job of illustrating how sharply state and federal funding has fallen over the past thirty years, causing many students to take out enormous loans and others to drop out and miss the opportunities that college can provide. And you do a good job of showing what a good, small, student-oriented college looks like (Amherst). collapse However, when you show the reliance on part-time instructors and the problem of large, impersonal classes, you paint this as a new phenomenon. In fact, large lectures and limited student access to professors has been around as long as higher education itself. As one of the faculty at a small extension campus of a major state-supported university, I can tell you that we are doing something about these problems. It is possible to provide quality education at an affordable price, with small class sizes and emphasis on teaching. More-and-more, students are choosing to attend campuses like ours, where they receive a top-flight education and most graduate nearly debt-free.

Christopher Smith
IN

6/30/05
Thanks for your provocative film.

Alas, colleges and universities in the United States morphed long ago into Clubs Med where, in the main, remedial high-school work is done and where fun and games prevail.

Even the integrity of America's premier academic institutions has been compromised in bizarre ways. Think, for example, of the unjust practice of seeking diversity in admissions and faculty hiring--a practice which inevitably leads to the dumbing-down of the institution and of society at large. Think of the ill wind of "political correctness" putting minds in straitjackets everywhere. collapse

What is needed for starters is serious reform of American secondary-school education. That would force colleges to become the places of higher learning they now pretend they are. Secondary and higher education across the Atlantic and Pacific have not, by the way, been similarly languishing. Foreigners with secondary-school educations are already a cut above American "college" graduates.

As a commentator in your report hinted, political institutions in the United States cannot (and already do not in my view) properly function in the absence of an educated and enlightened citizenry.


Ferdinand Gajewski, PhD

6/29/05
Can we start with the statistical lies. Like your "Test Your Knowledge" question that tells folks that we, at the US Department of Ed, say the "average age" of "undergraduate college students" is 26. Nonsense! First, we can't claim "average" of anything because that's not the way we collect the data. collapse

We don't have individual student records with birthdates. Second, go to the "Digest of Education Statistics 2003" (the most recent edition), table 177, page 225, and see if you can do some arithmetic (yes, "arithmetic"!). 4th column from the left, "Total Undergraduate" 13,715,610. Subtract those of unknown age and you get 13,436,086. That's called a "denominator." Duh! Add the other numbers, by age, sequentially, and you will find that 66.7 percent are under the age of 25. If two-thirds are under the age of 25, there is no way in God's kingdom that the "average age is 26."---unless, by chance, you are including Elderhostels (we don't, because those are not credit students). If you want to leave people with the impression that higher education is an old folks home, you are flat-out wrong. Furthermore, with larger high school graduating classes during the baby-boom echo and the same proportion (about 65%) of high school graduates continuing to some form of postsecondary education, it is common sense that the undergraduate population has gotten younger. Use your noodle! Even in community colleges, which myth has it to be retirement homes, the proportion of students 22 and under went from 32 to 42 percent between 1992 and 2001. Give us all a break! Your kids--not your brother-in-law--ar! Still the vast majority of undergraduate students, and last anybody looked, your kids are pretty young.

Clifford Adelman


6/29/05
Now, let's go to the big lie #2: who graduates? Read the following sentence carefully:

Of traditional-age students who attend a bachelor's degree granting institution at some time (thus including community college transfers), roughly 2 out of 3 will earn a bachelor's degree by age 26/27. collapse

Notice how that is written. It does not include in either numerator or denominator people whose only postsecondary school was the Hollywood Beauty Academy or Greentree Valley Community College's emergency medical tech licensing program. It says that we count as potential bachelor's degree candidates only those people who actually walked through the door of a bachelor's degree-granting institution. To do it any other way is fraud!

How do we know "2 out of 3"? Because we have national longitudinal studies that follow huge samples from high school through college and use transcript records to do it. Funny thing about transcripts---they neither lie, exaggerate, nor forget. Then we say "traditional-age." Yeah, because other longitudinal studies have told us that traditional-age and older students live on different planets, and it is fundamentally dishonest to combine them when judging the system. You judge those populations separately (and students who start college at age 19 finish at a much, much higher rate than those who start at age 29--is anyone in the house surprised?). Too, the longitudinal studies follow the student, not the institution: and when nearly 60 percent of traditional-age undergraduate attend more than one school, and 20 percent of those who started in 4-year schools and earn bachelor's degrees earned the degree from a different school, the 2 out of 3 gives the student credit for persistence--no matter how, when, or where.

The 2 out of 3 is not a 4-year graduation rate and not a 6-year rate: it's "by age 26/27," which is in the 8-9 year range from high school graduation. Now, ask any family in American which is more important---the fact that the kid graduated or how long it took them? Want to put some money on the table on the answer?

But there are two other issues here. First, whether 2 out of 3 is good given the expansion of the system, particularly when there are gaps by race/ethnicity and SES. I happen to think there are ways to narrow the gaps, though how much higher we can go in graduation rates is another story. Second, whether we are already giving cheap degrees, and whether we risk giving more cheap degrees just to improve graduation rates. Given my position, I am not going to comment on the second item.




6/29/05
I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THIS DOCUMENTARY AS MY INTERESTS LIE AROUND THESE SAME ISSUES. I AM CURRENTLY A MASTERS STUDENT IN HIGHER EDUCATION AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND. I WOULD BE MORE THAN HAPPY TO PROVIDE ANY FEEDBACK/ SUGGESTIONS/ PARTICIPATE IN DISCUSSIONS AFTER I SEE THE DOCUMENTARY!

KELLI WILLIAMSON
MD

6/29/05
It's my business to study higher education--and to study the studies, the propaganda, and the reports. The studies are mechanical and largely useless; the propaganda of numbers is so full of dissonance and lies that it's enough to drive you up a wall; and, with rare exceptions, the reports and manifestos can be characterized as what Orwell called "blah." The media, in the meantime, is obsessed by glitz, so all we hear about is such representative places as Princeton. Give us this day our daily break! But across the pond, and under the Bologna Process, 29 countries are integrating their higher education systems and redoing real content standards in the process. We are going to be left in the dust!

Name withheld by request

6/29/05
Worth the wait! Pace, sequences, production, and editing did everything a presentation such as this one should do. The choices of Western Kentucky and Arizona, and their weight in the total screen time were brilliant 'cause that's where America goes to school, and you found the right students for the stories. You know that they all will eventually earn degrees of some kind--a tribute to persistence--but I loved someone else raising questions about the quality of those degrees (I'm not allowed to be direct about that). The faculty line was one that I paid less attention to in our original discussions about this vision than I should have: you used it very well, and it obviously deserves the emphasis. The talking heads--Lee, Christine, the guy who commented on the athletics enterprise--were focused and pointed.
So Learning Matters mattered very well!

Name withheld by request

6/29/05
This was an excellent program. I have been teaching college for nearly 15 years and have been increasingly disturbed by the very trends you cite, particularly the willingness of students to put forth effort to learn. It is time we paid attention to these issues, and you are on the cusp of bringing them forward. Please continue to keep this upfront and spread the word.

Name withheld by request

6/29/05
Comparing my daughter's PSAT scores from last year with past National Merit cutoff scores in South Dakota would indicate to me that she is most likely going to be qualified to be a semi-finalist this fall. I would like to have any information you feel appropriate sent to us. She is considering majors in political science, English, or psychology. Obviously it is very important to us to make the most financially of her academic ability and yes, unfortunately, my lack of financial resources as an educator parent. A list of schools that would most likely match U of AZ would be very helpful.

Dwayne LaFave
SD

6/29/05
I came to the site because of the campus discussion of the TV show. Answered one of the questions and was disappointed in the sloppiness of the presentation in a site devoted to problems in education. Question had to do with majority number related to expense of attending a four year university and the claimed correct answer is B - $6,000 or less. But if B is correct then so is C and D. I know this is a picky issue but I am either being illogical or the creators of the site have not been careful and a problem one place makes me suspicious of the logic used other places. I did not answer any other questions.

Name withheld by request

6/29/05
It is outright shameful that foundations are paying big bucks for an "all white" group to discuss the status of higher education in this country. I plan to write to each foundation and make this very point. How on earth can you tell the whole truth when you are speaking for a euro-centric point of view? There are many high-level higher education administrators of color who can articulate the facts in a meaningful way, and who should have the opportunity to speak to the issue from their perspectives. Please do not add me to your email list.

Name withheld by request

6/28/05
I hope you do a sequel. I suggest you question the value of the so-called research that so many faculty spend time on. This can be done by looking in citation indexes to see how often the publications are cited by others. Also look at field like anatomy where new discoveries and breakthroughs are not likely, yet the subject is essential to some fields. Do they really need to publish to be good teachers? collapse

As for tenure, I suggest you look at other countries. Try the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia. They have a tenure equivalent, but with a difference. There they need to show about 10 years of actual hands-on design experience -- the design of something that is actually built and used. In this country the majority of the engineering faculty have never designed anything that was ever built. To me that is like a person claiming to be a doctor, yet not ever having seen or talked with a patient.


Carter Harrison
AZ

6/28/05
I agree with most of John Merrow's assessment of higher education in 2005. However, an important point that was not fully addressed is the amount of committees and meetings faculty must participate in under the heading of "service" to the institution. Also, much of the work is advisory in nature, so after long hours of deliberation outcomes/findings do not have to be acted on by the administration. I could spend more time on teaching and/or undertake more research if not hampered with so many meetings each semester. collapse Service is usually tied to tenure and merit pay. And, yes I have sat on a committee for the last four years that along with other duties counts the number of committees (School, College, University) faculty have participated in and rank their level of participation! Finally, your program looked at the problems let us work together to find solutions.

Joy Potthoff
OH

6/28/05
I appreciate all the information available on the "Declining by Degrees" website. As a professional in higher education, I feel fortunate to work for an institution that rolls up its sleeves to help admit more lower-income students and to mentor more struggling students and turn them into success stories.

Sandy Lashin-Curewitz
MA

6/28/05
A simple solution is for Universities to receive increased funding to reduce class sizes and reward scholarship on pedagogy for all faculty and require them to apply it. I attended a small honors liberal arts undergraduate program attached to a large state university. The Honors College had its own separate faculty and class size was never above 20. Many course were team-taught. Classes were dialog-based with professors who students were typically on a first-name basis with. None of the weaknesses indicated in your program showed up in my undergraduate experience except one: student debt. collapse In my view, it is a pure national travesty to require so many students to, in essence, mortgage so much of their futures as a type of slave to banks just to be educated so they can make their contributions to society. Even given this, however, the solution to higher education's problems will never consist in a top-down "accountability" program that, in effect, will mean indirect standardization of students themselves.

Stephen Ewen
Mariana Islands

6/27/05
For all the things this program did to highlight the current fiasco in education, it took a primarily moral and political point of view on the problem. Economic issues were only briefly touched upon during the interview with the Arizona basketball coach (who I'm sure doesn't have a detailed understanding for why universities exist). Everyone interviewed for the show is driven by incentives. I'm reminded of a quote from Fischer Black: "Professors should be rewarded for their teaching and not their research. That way, they might end up doing better research."

Chris Paulse

6/27/05
Riveting program regarding "higher" education - all those involved are to be commended.

Michael Siciliano

6/27/05
Terrific analysis! I only wanted more! Bravo. It was odd for me to see so much footage of the University of Arizona, where I did graduate work 25 years ago. One time my program director stopped me and said, "I see you're wearing an 'Options in Education' T-shirt." I beamed with pride, glad to be associated with the wise John Merrow in some way. "I hate that show," the man said before turning on his heel and striding off.)

Rod Kessler
MA

6/27/05
The issues raised ring true to me. As a former high school principal and a current university instructor, I feel that the American university system is failing our students. It is also failing its faculty with low pay, lack of tenure and too much emphasis on research over quality teaching. The traditional liberal arts education has given way to a "cafeteria-style" curriculum which is based too much on fads and making money over becoming a well-rounded person.

Robert Mulligan
PA

6/26/05
As a teaching assistant with large university in a NE Ohio, I have seen first hand the fall in standards for college students. I entered the graduate school here almost 20 years after I entered the same university as an undergraduate. Students today seem to feel, all they have to do is show up to class to pass. The "social promotion" system many high schools use leave students with this feeling. Remedial classes many students need are not mandatory and lead to students getting into a chemistry class without even having taken a science or algebra class in high school. This leads to first year courses that are taught at a high school level and students that have had science and math in high school having an easy time with the course work and not studying. Which leads some students to lose some of their good studying habits. collapse I have even had a few students tell me they paid to take this class and should pass for that reason alone. So are we going to run the college and universities as a business with the consumer always being right? Students do not seem to feel they have a responsibility in the learning process. The question I like to ask my students is: Have you ever gotten a bad grade from a good professor or a good grade from a bad professor? The overwhelming answer is always no. Which leads me to believe students, at least in their freshman year are more inclined to decide if a professor is good or not based on their grade and not what they have learned or could have learned.

Name withheld by request

6/26/05
You talked to too many administrators. It's a lot worse than you make out. And the whizzy-clicky lecture panacea doesn't work if the point of the class is to read "Madame Bovary" rather than stay awake for fifty whole minutes in a group of 300.

David Latané

6/26/05
This was the best single reporting piece on higher education that I have seen in a decade. What was so frightening to me was the severe stratification that is taking place in terms of educational opportunities. At my college, we seem to always struggle to live out our mission because of the severe lack of fiscal resources. While I love teaching students and am not as prone to the "publish or perish" system at major research universities, the passivity of students and their lack of educational preparation reflected in the program is "front and center" for myself and my colleagues. Much energy is expended simply trying to make the subject matter interesting and finding ways of getting students involved in their own learning. collapse

One approach we have found helpful is experiential learning--particularly in regard to exposure to a variety of religious traditions. Every freshman must take a required weekend trip to Chicago where they meet people from Muslim, Jewish, and a variety of different Christian traditions. I find that after the trip students are much more interested in reading and learning about these respective faith groups. Thank you for an informative and challenging piece. I hope to urge my colleagues to see it for themselves.


Brian Hartley
IL

6/26/05
I have been adjunct faculty (English and Humanities) at three community college districts in the East Bay/SF Bay Area for over 15 years. Your piece was wonderfully accurate in its portrayal except for the glaring omission of international/immigrant students and what they have to offer the college classroom. Isn't a college environment an arena where people from diverse backgrounds have a chance to discuss and question and share their perspectives about the materials and the learning process/academic inquiry itself?

Tobey Kaplan
CA

6/26/05
During my four years at "one of the best" public universities in the U.S., U.C. Berkeley (1961 - 1965), no professor conducted a classroom discussion, or read a student paper. The bulk of the teaching was of the lecture regurgitation model, and the majority of real teaching was done only by graduate students, many of whom spoke English as a second language. The process killed my interest in nearly all academic areas. I vowed not to let my children suffer through a similar outrage. Uncovering the currently remaining pockets of quality college teaching took a lot of work. Men like Loren Pope (Looking Beyond the Ivy League) have done a great service in delineating the continuing contribution of high quality small undergraduate schools. collapse My daughter attended Grinnell College in Iowa, and my son went to Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Both institutions still feature small classes taught by skilled, experienced instructors. They received as good of a college education as is available in the U.S. today. Their experience was still deficient in many respects, however. The "school year" is really the school "half year", as the semesters are 13 weeks long. The nominal tuition is also ludicrous, reaching nearly $100.00 per hour for a seat in a classroom. The professors teaching the classes can be hired as private tutors for half that cost.

The amount of misinformation in the college selection process is also appalling. It takes a lot of work to find out who is teaching the classes, what class sizes and curriculums are, and what student outcomes are achieved after graduation. The director of admissions at Wesleyan, for example, flat out lied about graduate student teaching at his institution, claiming that none took place. The graduate manual for the school said clearly that all graduate students at Wesleyan were required to teach, which he repeatedly denied. I recently retired, and took an advanced Counterpoint class at the University of Maryland (senior/1st year graduate level). There was definitely an implicit agreement that neither the students nor the professor were going to work terribly hard. The work assigned was half that of similar classes taken at Berkeley 40 years previous, and the semester was 3 weeks shorter. Several students slept through the class, and there was little attempt on the part of the students to prepare for classroom discussions, which were held in what was basically an advanced seminar class.

My daughter studied at a University in China (Beijing Language University) in addition to her U.S. college. The Chinese semester is 20 weeks long, and students spend 20 hours a week in class, The Chinese instructors were highly qualified and very demanding. There are a billion Chinese, and many are extremely diligent in their studies. If our higher educational system continues along the path of mediocrity of the last 30 years, we're likely to become a second rate society.


Allen Greenberg
MD

6/26/05
This situation is too sad. Sad for the hard working students. Sad for the instructors. And especially terrifying for the country as a whole. And yet our "leadership" continues to sell us out to corporations. We are a generation from third world status. And most of us pretend this is inevitable (not) and an accident of economics (not). Looks intentional to me. collapse

We used to be a nation of problem solvers. Now this country, through Washington, D.C., creates the most horrific problems not just around the world but we at home are targeted as well with the added blessing of actually being allowed to pay for the privilege of hanging ourselves. It would be comedy if it were not so deadly real.

I wish I had the means to offer financial support to both the student named Ceylon and the young single mother who was penalized for getting married and had to drop out of school just before her semester ended. That is so cruel. But I know the experience. I had to drop out of first year law school (working during the day and school at night) just six weeks before finals because my job was terminated three months before and I did not secure other employment for another two months, though I looked everyday.


Joyes Burris

6/26/05
Your program just scratched the surface on decline of higher education. Currently, I am an engineering student at UA. Many of my instructors don't want to teach and they don't want to be bothered with students. For example, this past semester, I had a class which was supposed to meet once a week for 3 hours. Only on two occasions did the class meet for the entire time. Usually, we had class for less than thirty minutes. This was a required upper-division engineering course. collapse

Another major problem is trying to complete required courses. Many times classes are cancelled because there are not enough students signed up for the class. If a class is cancelled, the student is forced to find a substitution. Not all substitutions are accepted. If your major advisor doesn't like you, you'll have to wait until that class is offered again. You'll have to postpone your graduation date. As for the professor, he gets paid whether he has a class to teach or not. Every semester there are instructors whose classes are cancelled. They suffer no pay cuts. Why should the public pay for instructors not to teach? If a student complains, he can be forced out of his major and even out of his college. It is no small wonder that students just go with the flow. There is no other viable choice. All changes to the system need to come from the professors, deans, provost and the president.


Name withheld by request

6/26/05
Our PBS station in the Washington D.C. market just ran this program, today, on a Sunday afternoon. I think that its importance merits a prime time showing. As a parent with one daughter who is a senior in college and another just entering as a freshman this Fall, the program appeared to confirm a number of things that I feared but was not able to confirm directly. collapse

I recently went back to school after retiring from the Federal Gov't, as a non-degree student taking some undergraduate courses, just to keep the gray matter exercised. I have been taking these at a type of institution that was not included in the broadcast--a public, small university that up until recently used the term "college" in its name. Although it has been subjected to the vicissitudes of the state funding process, it has seemed to have weathered them well filling a gap between the Amherst and Western Kentucky models allowing the maintenance of reasonable quality for the cost. (I am judging the quality by my original 1960's undergraduate experience.) There may be others like it--colleges without large endowments that provide a good educational experience for their students. Perhaps in your future endeavors, these types of institutions may be worth looking into possibly providing some valuable insight in managing the looming problems detailed in your broadcast.

A final note: Tom Brokaw described his "Greatest Generation" as those who fought and won World War II. That generation also established the higher education infrastructure that accommodated the "bow wave" of baby boomers of which I was a member. I benefited from the State University of New York investments at the time attending a research university as the bulldozers were still there building it. This, to me, was another accomplishment of that Greatest Generation. I fear that my generation has not lived up to that standard given the state of higher education today as the "echo boomers" enter college.


Dennis Van Derlaske
VA

6/26/05
As a community college educator, I wish the program had delved more into the benefits of attending a community college. These benefits are far beyond the open admissions and cheaper tuition. CC's provide the small classes, personal attention, a teaching/learning mission, a level of engagement with faculty and staff that the larger universities struggle to provide. Though the statistics seem to indicate a poor retention and graduation rate, these numbers are not the entire story. collapse Many of our students don't plan to obtain an associate's degree. They may only need one or two classes to update their workforce skills. They may obtain all the credits needed for a transfer to a 4-year institution, but do not care about the 2-year degree, only the credits. They may start one semester, leave for a couple of semesters, return again, etc. as the ebb & flow of their lives allow them to the luxury of taking classes. I'm afraid that’s how Declining by Degrees depicted community college! They were depicted as the "last resort" rather than as a positive choice. I have always believed that a person who desires a quality education is able to seek it out at any institution. There are good and bad teachers at every college, just as there are motivated and unmotivated students at each. I believed in our college's mission when I recently had a conversation with a student who travels 30 miles across the "Valley of the Sun" to attend our particular college, even though there is another college within 5 miles of her house. She said she came to our college because it is known as the "Harvard of Community Colleges."

I do appreciate that you've raised awareness and concern about bad practices and experiences facing students entering higher education. We need to be vigilant and clearly have a lot of work ahead of us to improve our system in order to renew the social covenant. We also need to be concerned about not just access, but the genuine opportunity. In addition, we need to look at the entire spectrum of our education from pre-school through higher education to provide the foundation necessary to increase opportunity for all. However, I do hope you'll offer a sequel to your program showcasing the good practices that do exist at many of our colleges and universities. We are finding these good practices at four-year universities and at community colleges. Project DEEP, in which Dr. Kuh is involved is uncovering some of these good practices. We have an opportunity to emulate these good practices.

You've set the stage. You've shown us some of the problems. Now, let's move ahead to solutions by seeing how some colleges and universities have overcome these problems.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my views.


Name withheld by request

6/26/05
The reason so many kids in college are used to doing very little and getting good grades is that many are the "high achieving" students in a very mediocre public school education system. This is no mystery. Foreign students I knew at college back in the 1970s were amazed at how easy our curriculum was even at the graduate level. collapse

We need to look at how other high-achieving countries are handling these issues. India is one example. Our lower education is watered down, and our college education has become watered down in all but the very top colleges. We are living in a fool's paradise if we think we can continue down this path. Our idea that everyone is the same is getting in the way of helping those with superior ability get ahead.

We have depended on foreigners with superb educations already under their belts coming here and being researchers, doctors, etc. Many of these people have been from China and India, and they can now stay home and do quite well with no cultural adjustment required. We need to start actually helping our own high-achieving kids get a good education, and not just the ones lucky enough to have parents with the money to buy a home in a "good" school district.

This situation will be a tragedy on a personal level as well as a national level. We need "home grown" well educated people, and we don't need large numbers of people heavily in debt from financing educations that fail to make them competitive in a global job market. Question here is, do we have the will or ability to get it together quickly enough to do anything about this or will we debate and table resolutions and order studies endlessly hoping to avoid doing anything?!


Nancy Chary
NY

6/26/05
I am writing this comment for the simple fact that obviously I was touched by the topic, I've gone through it and I am still going through the injustices of the educational system of the USA. As a young student going from elementary school till present community college, I have been underestimated as person with the capacity to be challenged. Born and raised in Bronx, New York, already was a course to us people who really desired and still desire a decent education. My teachers' lack of preparation, lack of materials and oversized classes made it difficult for them to give us the best of their performance. I remember being constantly ignored when I asked questions that fairly were head of what I was "suppose" to be thought or answered difficult questions that the teachers were astonished because they weren't expecting for me to know. collapse In other words my teachers sow my talents and my desires to go ahead in class and instead of giving me the tools they ignored me, making me cripple. I know I could still go ahead in life because I'm still young, buy my desires to learn aren't same now as they use to be. Basically most of the knowledge that I've acquired has been on my own or through public television. It is almost impossible to believe that I didn't know how bad my grammar was until I was forced to take a remedial course in basic grammar in my first year in college. We shouldn't be embarrassed about what we don't know; it is the system that should be responsible for our miss-education. All of these discrepancies are still affecting me today because college is just a business and almost all are filled with underqualified "professor."

Suraby Yensi
NY

6/26/05
Fascinating discussion... simply fascinating. And they say we need to cut funding for public television...ridiculous!!

Kenneth Harris
NY

6/26/05
I have $63,000 in student loan debt, and I pay 373 dollars a month for 21 more years. I am a mother of a three year old and I am trying to have another child. Given my desire to reduce my earning power at this time to be home for my children, how will I afford to save for their education while I am still paying for my own? This is a dead end in that my family will be paying students loans for generation after generation. I feel a black cloud is following me and I cannot feel that I will ever get out from under it. My retirement savings is being affected also.

Melissa Powell
FL

6/26/05
I am a non-traditional student at Benedict College in Columbia, SC. It is a black liberal arts college that has had a lot of controversy over what is called the See Policy. The SEE policy requires all instructors at Benedict College to evaluate each freshman and sophomore student on two factors: effort and content learning. The final grade for freshmen is weighted 60 percent on effort and 40 percent on content knowledge and the final grade for sophomores is weighted 40 percent effort and 60 percent content knowledge. The policy is designed to increase student learning of subject matter content at Benedict College by increasing a student’s learning efforts. Viewing this documentary show me that most colleges have some form of the policy, even if unstated. collapse Often minority students are view as uninterested, underachieving, unmotivated, and often exercising poor judgment in the areas of careless behavior such as drinking and sexing. This program shows that these whites engage in the same behaviors just as often and maybe more but little or no attention is paid to them when it come to these issues.

Name withheld by request

6/26/05
I attended a small, progressive liberal arts college for my undergraduate degree and later chose a large, research-focused institution for my Master's degree. After I'd taken all the graduate-level classes available for my MA, I had to "fill-in" my degree with undergraduate classes taken for graduate credit in exchange for a bit more work.

I was shocked by both the lack of interest and dedication on the part of many students, and the lack of attention and enthusiasm by the faculty. Students were upset when the professor allowed what we were learning to shape our schedule and many faculty feel that if the student hasn't learned the basics already, then they can't be taught. collapse

Although I think one can receive an excellent education at larger, state universities, most students really are-as you say-"treading water." I was at first shocked by this discovery, angry in fact, and I reacted by fighting against the inertia -- but as time went on I let it all go and got out of the experience what I could. Sure, savvy students will get what they want from this kind of experience, but it's disheartening.

I worry about the academic model. What I mean is this. The students who succeed in graduate school are the ones who are self-driven and often a bit anti-social…and to their credit, you kind of have to be to really excel in the very narrow and long path of research, thesis and long-term academic research required in academia. But, the skills and personality necessary to accomplish brilliant research is often at odds with the (usually untaught) skills and personality to be a brilliant teacher. They can co-exist, but that's not the status quo.

One of my biggest worries is not about teaching -- it's about the corporatization of universities. If we follow the model of corporations funding higher education in earnest, we allow a public good to be dependent on a few key companies and these will then be out of our (the public's) control. And likely, due to corporate consolidation, these companies are a huge segment of the economy. What if -- like we're experiencing with GM now -- one of the higher education supporting companies threatens to go belly-up? Not only will this cause the American economy to stumble, but higher education as well.


Erika Lee
IN

6/24/05
You faced the brutal facts. Combined, my husband and I have a 35 years teaching experience. We watched your program with great interest. We have given our students a plethora of strategies for learning. Like antibiotics, the learning virus has mutated and the medicine is not touching the disease of mediocrity.

Janet Adams
CA

6/24/05
Thank you for your program; I look forward to reading the companion book. I have been going to school in the sciences off and on for 16 years and am now a PhD student. I believe your show demonstrated aptly many of the problems in today's college classrooms. The inability to question, reason, and extend seems to abound. collapse

I think part of the driving force behind the problem was included in the program, although hidden. The goal for the parents, students, and colleges seems to be "prepare these students for a job." A person that is educated and can think will be able to find and keep employment. Merely tossing facts at a person doesn't give the required skills. I would refer anyone that is interested to the book: A Thomas Jefferson Education. The goals of an education are elucidated quite clearly there.

We all need employment so as not be a burden on society and to maintain the expansion of the economy, but the way to get there is not to fill in the blank in your subject of choice. The job sector needs workers that are resilient, creative, and can anticipate. All that multiple choice, short answer, etc. teaches is the ability to anticipate the material the instructor finds important, and not even that if an intensive review is given.

I lament the number of times I have heard, "but I don't know what the teacher wants." Unfortunately, the answer may be tenure or to be paid a living wage for the time spent preparing, teaching, and grading. Both of which are incompatible with spending copious amounts of time with students who are, in the main, interested in a break, a hint, or some other advantage.

Most days after classes, students are not bubbling over the material (even at higher education levels) rather they are complaining about unfair grading or too much work, if they talk about school at all. If you sense frustration, you sense correctly. Education should be more than just a check mark and the road to a 9-5 job. Our democracy depends on it.


Name withheld by request

6/24/05
I thought your program was very well done - many perspectives were given, and it accurately reflected the frustrating situation that exists in colleges now, where students have learned in high school that they don't need to study much outside of class (or that memorization is the way to go), faculty have an increasing pressure placed on them to be productive in research but are not awarded for good teaching, and administrators are forced to treat education as a business because of the declining funding for education. It is very sad to see students that are unashamed to admit that they party their way through college and still maintain high GPA's, and nice to see students say that they want a greater challenge. collapse

However, what I think was missing from your program is what happens when students do encounter a challenge - they often meet it with hostility, and/or are shocked that they really do need to spend 2-3 hours outside of class for every hour in class. Students have become so accustomed to classes that don't make heavy demands on them that they find such classes to be unfair and overly difficult - they tend to blame the professor if their study habits don't work for them.

I personally spend my lecture hour as a mix between lecturing, asking questions, and having students solve sample problems. Most students (approx 100 per class) will agree that the class is engaging and stimulating, and I tend to get high numbers on my evaluations. Yet I don't give study guides and I ask that they apply their understanding on exams - this is viewed as bizarre and generally unfair by most students. In any case, congratulations on a great program. I have recommended it to my colleagues.


Name withheld by request

6/24/05
I am a working adult that is trying to obtain an advanced practice degree in my profession. I have a 3.95 GPA but am unable to get scholarship money (that I am told is there) to fund my education. My oldest child will need to go to college when I am finished. I wonder where do we get the money? I feel I am smart, talented and have proven I am a good financial investment, but I have to mortgage my career to advance in my practice. collapse

A comment to Lute Olsen and the powers at U of A. The huddled masses struggle to get into and through college without going bankrupt, while people who were never interested in getting an education get a free ride, and get to walk away without any obligation. Is it fair to hang the rest of us with that bill? If one third of the money spent on scholarships for potential sports heroes were dedicated toward the recruitment of nurses, this country would not be facing the healthcare crisis that is going to crush the baby boomer generation. I hope they will contemplate this while they lie unattended in an understaffed hospital or nursing home, as that day is coming.


Name withheld by request

6/24/05
Developmental Education is a complex subject. Sometimes, it is a matter of a student not getting some material from the high school experience. I work at a career college where the average age of an incoming student is 30 years old. This individual has potentially been out of high school for a long time. Family, work, maybe some college has taken up this time for the last 10-12 years. At our institution the number of new students who test into at least one developmental course is approximately 70 percent. One has to wonder how people are functioning in society without the reading and math skills for approximately 12 years before an attempt is made to begin a college degree.

Robert Payne

6/24/05
I thought the program was excellent. You have fairly captured the conditions prevailing in contemporary American universities. I have two critical observations. 1) What is the breaking point? At what point will all the problems discussed in the program cause the system to break down to the point at which those with clout (administrators, students, parents, legislators) will say that things need to change drastically? The program ended with graduating students happily receiving their degrees. The adjunct philosophy professor is still teaching at his meager salary, as is the full professor who has no incentive to teach more effectively. The students priced out of school found their way to community college, and no one will fret about their future. 2) How will the system change if those who run universities (presidents, top administrators) are the system's biggest apologists? collapse Every currently employed president or coach interviewed in the show defended the status quo. So you have produced a great exposé, but you have given no indication of how anything will change. The show made me more rather than less pessimistic because it brilliantly exposed problems that are structurally inherent in the modern university.


6/24/05
This was one of the best and most comprehensive programs I have ever seen and confirmed my worries that our education system is in real trouble. I sincerely hope this program is shown again and again on PBS so I can make sure all my family and friends see it. Thank you for producing such a high quality and needed program.

Taft Babbitt
CO

6/24/05
Your show really exposed many of the critical areas of higher education that the general public needs to know more about. We still live in a country where there is a "magical" or "mythical" quality attributed to higher education that a mere mortal cannot question the staff or faculty. Higher education is the only self-regulating industry that has for years kept the general public in the dark, so that they do not have to be accountable. One area that your documentary did not include is the movement to the "vocationalization" of higher education. The need to get a job with skills learned in college is most of the time at odds with a faculty who would not know how to hold a job in the non-academic world, nor care to be informed to assist students to understand their chosen field of interest. collapse

I believe that there needs to be restructuring/reengineering of higher education from the top down -- the waste, incompetence’s and lack of accountability should not be tolerated in a country that is quickly loosing its place as a learning society. Now days, with grade inflation, and the general malaise in the students attending the open access university where I teach -- to give me an "A" for just attending the class, and tolerated by the administration, we are sinking into a wasteland of college graduates, but not college educated. When will state legislatures finally say "enough" and demand accountability for our tax dollars!


Name withheld by request

6/24/05
I haven't watched the program yet, but plan to. I heard some of John's interview on a Sacramento radio station yesterday morning, and while I agree that some schools are not providing a true education, I have to acknowledge how great mine was.

I attended Reedley College, a junior college in a small farming town near Fresno, where I was in the Honors Program. I had wonderful teachers who cared if you showed up, engaged the students, and mentored me. In particular, my math teacher gave me the idea to be an engineer, and my English teacher is a mentor and friend to this day. The community college experience doesn't have to be "high school with ashtrays." As with the university, one gets what one puts in. collapse

At UC Davis, I majored in Biological Systems Engineering. That department is awesome! Although the professors are involved in research, the undergraduates are still nurtured and taught a tough curriculum. But we didn't just learn theory and facts, we were also told about how things would be in the working world. Many of the professors had also worked in industry or had their own farms or other businesses, plus they maintained contact with former students. So they were able to prepare us for our post-college work. The curriculum was very demanding--one didn't just "get by." In fact, the dean of the engineering college told one of my Mechanical Engineering friends that they did want to break us down, much like the military does. Although the work was difficult, the professors were available for questions and office hours. They knew us by name (my class had about 50 students) and cared about our lives.

Thank you for letting me share my experience.


Melissa Hallas

6/24/05
As nations decline, they become more complex and more competitive for every crumb of bread; truth becomes harder to find. The children of the wealthy stroll through expensive finishing schools smirking at the children of the poor and middle class who actually believe that knowledge will improve their lot.

Connections - who one knows, not what one knows - still rules the day. The wealthy do not want liberally educated citizens who can think critically; they want well-trained drones who can turn a wrench, fix a computer, or type a well sculpted phrase. Well educated, critically thinking citizens tend to want to examine what is going on behind the curtains of the statehouse or the White House or the Senate. Very inconvenient.

Name withheld by request

6/24/05
I'm a college professor at a regional state university in Missouri. I just watched the program "Declining By Degrees" on PBS last night. Parts of the show I agreed with, especially the increasing corporatization of the university and the lack of state funding, which shuts out the poorer (and minority) students the most. But some of the program bothered me, partly because I think some of what was identified as a problem is first, not necessarily true at all institutions, and second, not necessarily a problem. collapse

To clarify I need to let you know more about my experiences. I've taught in higher education for 30 years, but I've also taught in secondary school, and have a teaching degree. I was a "freeway flyer" adjunct, then a temporary faculty at two state universities, prior to getting on the tenure track at CMSU. I've been here 17 years, and have risen through the ranks to become a full professor. CMSU is a comprehensive regional state university, with approximately 11,000-12,000 students total, offering M.A. as well as bachelor degrees. Increasingly, our students are coming in from two-year colleges, or returning to school as adults, although we still get a lot straight from high school. Many of our students are first generation college students and work to go to school.

However, the students and programs here are not necessarily suffering the problems you identified. While binge drinking exists, it is not done by 39% of our students, if local surveys are to be believed. Since many of our students work, and have families, that is not surprising. CMSU currently recognizes and rewards good teaching in tenure and promotion decisions, although increasingly we also are asked to do research. Normally we have a 4/4 load, which is high for a university that also wants research. We can get a reduction if we are willing to teach big classes. Although for years we have held the line on adjunct (part-time) faculty, increasingly the state budget has not matched needs, and as professors retire, all too often their lines are eliminated, replaced by temporary or part-time faculty. Still, in my department, communication, we try our best to argue for full-time tenure-line replacements, and to obtain the best faculty we can afford. It is a diverse faculty, with the majority of us with PhDs, yet more dedicated to teaching than pure research. The lack of funding is indeed a problem, but we have tried not to let it influence our teaching or standards. First, CMSU is part of statewide assessment of programs, with departments required to assess their majors. We also do a general university-wide assessment of general education. In addition, we attempt to hold "standards" (although some of us are leery of that term, since it has been used to discriminate against persons in the past). For example, in my department faculty do not give out high percentages of A grades, even to major students. In my own classes, the vast majority of grades over the past years have been Cs and Bs. I do think there is some creep up, where B is becoming more like C, but we try very hard to discourage the notion that a C is like a failing grade. Even in the majority of my graduate and senior classes, I rarely have more than 25% A grades (the only exception to this are specialized seminars). This is true despite increasing focus on retention and "enrollment management."

I like to think many students are challenged in my classes, even in the big general education lecture class I teach (100 students each semester). It is hard to get high grades without coming to class and reading at least part of the readings, although there always are some students who can do that, who could get an A grade without reading much and just cramming for tests. Those students probably could achieve well at an ivy-league school, but are at the state school for a variety of reasons. This is not a new phenomenon, by the way--indeed, I was one of those students at my state college during my first year in 1968. I went there in part for financial reasons, as I also had to work part-time to help put myself through college.

Those bright students probably aren't very challenged, at least not always, but that is not necessarily a problem of the teaching. We do have an honors program for good students, but not all are enrolled in it. The problem may have more to do with student immaturity than anything else. I know in my own case that once I got married (at 19 to my first spouse) I was a lot more serious in my education.

And that leads me to what seems to be considered a problem in the documentary, but may not be, and that is student expectation and motivation, coupled with presumably uninspired teaching. It is true many professors could improve, and we have a Center for Teaching and Learning on campus designed to help (yes, it is voluntary, but many go). More up-to-date (and working) equipment would also help us vary our classes beyond lecture. Some profs may be complicit in a "pact" of mutual low expectations with their students, but not all of us. In my classes, I always require at least one or more papers--even in my 100 student classes. Even though I have a G.A. to help I'm the one who grades these papers, and who provides extensive feedback (I have taught composition before). I'm not alone in my department. I'm not sure papers are needed in every class, but I give them in mine. I also have a heavy load of reading for upper level and graduate classes (some would say the lower levels as well). I expect much from my students. Again, I am not alone. It is true that I do give some objective tests, especially in my large classes, but I disagree that these are always problematic. I took testing and measurement, plus statistics, in my own college degrees, and I spend a lot of time making the best (most reliable and valid) instruments I can. I also have other ways of assessing student performance beyond papers and exams, including group work and discussion, even in the large classes. Some work better than others, but overall I think I'm a good teacher--at least my students and peers seem to think so. We don't have a teaching award at CMSU, so I can't claim that, but I get good evaluations overall, and many students take more than one class from me.

What I have discovered over the years of teaching is that I need to do more "high school" level things with my students to assuage their anxieties (as well as meet state requirements)--I give out a large syllabus, I have a message board, I provide exam study guides, even practice questions, sample papers, etc. Overall, they need more handholding, even the smart ones. The main difference between them and myself at their age was I often took it upon myself to make connections between classes, and to do extra reading, especially as I got older and took courses I did find both challenging and engaging. I don't expect that out of the ordinary student, but the bright ones don't do it either--probably because they don't know how. Unlike some of the professors profiled, I do have students come to talk to me--they e-mail me, or phone me, or come by the office. Not all of them, and unfortunately, not those who really need to. Usually it is the good students who are "freaked out" because the subject is hard and they have to work at it.

In summary, the declining financial support of higher education is a problem, but I'm not sure about the rest. It struck me in watching the program that most of those schools seemed to be doing just fine with their more limited funds. And many of the students followed also were doing okay. Although the program was focused on perceived problems, I wish it also had included other examples of success beyond those noted.


Barbara Baker
MO

6/24/05
Yes, we need to move our focus from teaching to learning and ask the question of "How do we know our students are learning"? This was an excellent thought-provoking program that hopefully will help us all to rethink teaching and learning at our colleges and universities. It was timely for our institution since 5 of us just returned from a Learning College Summit.

Janice M. Kinsinger
IL

6/24/05
I was riveted by this program. I've always known there is a serious problem with our college system in America but this program put all the pieces together in a clear and disturbing manner. I currently have a child in college, one going to college in 2 years and a third who will enter the system in 13 years. The only way we know how to put our kids through college without incurring major debt is athletics. We are fortunate enough to have athletically gifted children and have the resources to compete for those few scholarships. I was saddened by the stories of those young women you highlighted in the program who had to work full-time while going to school. I hope they realize their dreams. Thank you for producing this program. I only hope our elected officials saw the program and will bring the issues forward to national attention. I am so tired of our politicians dealing with things that don't really matter and not paying enough attention to our children and the future of our nation. A great piece of journalism.

Kristen Dennemann
IN

6/24/05
Working on my PhD and instructing grad and undergrad courses, the information provided in the program is not surprising but alarming.

LeRoy Trusty
CO

6/24/05
This was the most important two hours that has been devoted to higher education in the past twenty years. It is true that the country has lost our way and has broken the pledge, first made in the post WWII days of the 40's and 50's. The budget tightening policies of the last 3 decades have left us with the vestiges of where we were in the pre-war days of the 1930s; where only the wealthy can afford an education, and at a time when the world economy demands the opposite. It is time that our institutions of higher learning explore ways and means to restore the American compact of an assured education for all.

Dr. Alfred Cenedella
FL

6/24/05
I caught this documentary by chance as I unloaded groceries late in the evening (PBS, 9pm Mtn). I'd planned to hit the sack early, but the program was so riveting, that idea was quickly tossed. My eldest child, a son, heads off to college for the first time this fall. He'll attend Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO.

I was flabbergasted—and deeply troubled—by what was revealed. The financial equations relied upon to "make" higher education work obviously aren't working but for those who have the money to spend. I'm a single parent, long struggling financially, but my ex makes an upper middle class salary and is committed to ensuring that college happens for both kids. (My daughter will be a college freshman in 2008.) Even so, the cost of a state college is a stretch for both of us. collapse

Watching the struggle of the young black woman who worked 40+ hours, slept in bits and pieces and eventually abandoned the four-year institution for community college, absolutely broke my heart. No kidding, I was in tears. It made me recall my own college experience during which I was able to cobble together grants, loans, work-study, etc. while working nights and weekends to the tune of about 35 hours a week (thank you Ma Bell) and graduate magna cum laude in four years with just under $10,000 in debt. I attended Webster University (then College) in St. Louis. My experience was well worth the price. Small classes, an intimate learning environment, great challenges, and dedicated faculty. At the time there was no gymnasium or formal sports for that matter; the "student center" comprised about as much space as two conventional classrooms, there was one dining hall and two small dorms, etc. But we shared a pretty decent library with a seminary then located across the street. We had a magnificent performing arts program (long a St. Louis fixture). And we were all challenged, hard working and happy. I missed out on a 24-hour college experience, but I found ways to get to special events and lectures. It was one of the most significant times in my life---for how I learned to think critically, for the people who nurtured me, and the very place. A young woman today, on her own, likely will never have that opportunity. It makes me deeply sad and concerned.

The market approach to education is shortchanging an entire generation. The Colorado legislature and the governor's office here in Colorado recently balked when the University of CO, with campuses in Colorado Springs (where I live), and Denver, as well as the infamous Boulder campus proposed raising tuition as much as 30 percent. And rightly so. And yet the state isn't offering to cough up any additional financial support and we're well aware what Uncle Sam in general isn't doing for education. So it's scary.

Having said that, and based on my own college experience, I am not at all a proponent of large institutions. Their size and economies present huge obstacles to real teaching and learning.

I can't decide which is more appalling: the financial picture or the actual teaching or lack thereof. The so-called "political scientist" in Arizona was frightening. I imagine the part-time community college instructor/professor/whatever title he's granted in Denver would give his eyeteeth for her $65K salary. Maybe her "expertise" would be better employed in a think-tank. I hope she viewed the documentary and took note of the researcher-turned-professor and his amazing capacity to make lemonade. Granted, the "system" fuels her type of bitterness but obviously those with the passion and intent are able to make inroads.

There's more at play regarding students' underperformance as well. Those kids who do the minimum and manage to get through are not just taking advantage of a dumbed-down and imperfect system. They are products of a larger culture that has coddled them in the belief that reward is instant, that they are entitled to a 'good time" at their parents' or others' expense. Why is it that so many have not yet grasped the significance of learning for learning's sake, of growing as a human being and of contributing to the world with their knowledge, skill and compassion?

Obviously, I was deeply impacted by your documentary and could go on and on!

Its key value for me as a parent and as a consumer, at this point in time? I plan to purchase the film and watch it again with my son. (He's in the Michigan wilderness at present!) Hopefully, it will stir a lot of discussion between now and August. I hope at least some of it sinks in for him. I will also be asking many more questions during the three-day parent orientation at Fort Lewis and probably staying more in touch with my son during his freshman year. It presents an interesting quandary for me. My thinking has always been that this is a time in his life that is his own to succeed or fail in; I've not imagined myself the parent who can't let go. And yet.... I now feel compelled to nose my way in and keep tabs. Ironic.

I do think that the 24/7 "party culture" is endemic to so much of college life these days. Sure, it's always been there.... just not 24/7! "Back in the day" we knew to pretty much "hunker down" during the week and let loose on the weekends. Today, the attitude is all fun, all the time. It's one reflection of our excessively adolescent society. Yikes!

I think you did a remarkable job in covering a lot of ground. I would like to have heard more from the woman in Austin (can't recall her position/title)---she seemed particularly savvy and well-grounded regarding what's going on and what needs to change. But how will it happen?

What I would also like to know from the producers and subjects are ways in which they believe students and parents can influence change. The big picture is so overwhelming.

Whew! Sorry for the excess, but boy, you struck a chord!

Kudos!


Susan McConnell
CO

6/24/05
As an academic advisor at the University of Kentucky, I thought the program was an excellent overview of the hot button issues in higher education today. I certainly hope it generates conversation and civic action.

Matthew Deffendall
KY

6/24/05
Overall good job, although I agree that the topic is too broad to be covered completely in one two-hour segment. Would like to see more coverage of the four-year liberal arts colleges. Amherst is representative a very small portion of the LA segment of Hi Ed. Colleges like Juniata, where I work as an administrator, have a story to tell as well.

Ray Chambers
PA

6/24/05
This was an insightful examination of a disturbing but all too familiar portrait of higher education in America. Most obvious was the mal-distribution of resources: funding for facilities to attract students, but no funding for professors who might participate in the education of those students. Obvious too was the apathy of students in large, sterile lecture halls, though the animation with interactive professors was startling in contrast.

Joan Goldstein
NJ

6/24/05
Great program. Fair, balanced and a wake-up call to reform higher education.

David Dutra
AZ

6/24/05
I was truly inspired by this documentary. It was very informative and moving. I myself am an on/off college student. I moved from my hometown of Beaumont, TX to Austin, TX for better opportunities in education and employment. I work to save money, and go to Austin Community College. My parents once owned a thriving business that employed over 40 people, but after the Enron scandal, and the economy bust, they had to downsize and are struggling with debt. Almost bankrupt, they cannot afford to support me thru school. Therefore the quality of my education and chances of ever finishing are poor. I only wish that Declining by Degrees would air on Fox News during prime time. Maybe it would open some eyes. collapse

Anyway, thank you very much for you work. The people involved in the creation of this documentary work are nothing short of social heroes. Real journalist in a day when the propaganda puppets get the prime time.


Lee Blackman
TX

6/24/05
Having worked for an educational institution for the past four years, I can tell you from experience, that the students do not really understand the meaning of a “social contract.” Case in point, when a student from an affluent family comes to campus, they are accustomed to a certain lifestyle. This lifestyle is of one of privilege and a feeling of entitlement. Therefore, the inner drive to accomplish something has quelled their passion for learning. They are accustomed to people handing them everything, i.e. grades, drugs, sex, and Daddy’s credit card. I think that we are heading down a very dangerous road in Higher Education, and everyone seems to be o.k. with it. collapse I have seen countless students consume large amounts of alcohol and drugs, only to have them tell me that they smoke marijuana and drink at home with their parents. How do we as staff members relate to something like that when we hear it? Where is the personal responsibility on the part of the students and parents?

Athletics has been another troublesome topic for the last 50 years. I really don’t want to discuss what we already know about Division I athletics, which is making a mockery of the Higher Education system, but for those of us that have been a part of it; we have felt used ever since we have stepped on campus. Nevertheless, the coaches, academic advisors, and other handlers fail to tell you the truth about anything relating to reality when the universities elite is pampering you. All an all the system of Higher Education is in shambles. Other countries have taken advantage of our system, and made it work in their perspective countries, and in the next 10-20 years, they will be ahead of us in every facet of education. I heard Bill Gates say in an interview, “As the current educational system stands right know, I will not be able to hire an American to work.” That is because of the declining skills in math and science. Who is going to turn it around?


Ronald Marshall
CO

6/24/05
Having gone to a large university in the 70s, and now attending community college to make a job change, I found the program very informative... and disturbing. The problem with part-time instructors I have already seen at my current school. Also am working full time, can't manage full time school as well, settled for 3-5 credits a quarter. Add in the cost, I can't afford all my living expenses and full time school either, so getting by with part time and a small home equity loan. I remember when it was easier to get grants, and tuition for a year at my university was about 8 weeks salary as a clerk typist. Not now! What does the author think citizens can do to help in this crisis?

Carolee Edwards
WA

6/24/05
My husband is a professor at one of the featured universities. Ironically, right after the NY Times article was published, we were at an awards banquet, where he received recognition for his outstanding teaching record - an award he has received every year. Two weeks later, the same university that recognized his teaching denied him tenure. For the administrators to claim that teaching is a priority is laughable. I only hope that we can find another university that will appreciate his skills.

Name withheld by request

6/23/05
I cried when I saw the documentary. Some of the things I heard were just amazing and sad. John did a wonderful job.

Jocelyn Bush
PA

6/23/05
As for the increase in the quality of higher education abroad, to what do you attribute this miraculous development? For example, did you think to inquire as to where those professors and administrators were educated? Chances are that they (or their professors) gained advanced degrees right here in the United States, a fair number from The University of Arizona I would wager. We have raised the quality of education around the world. Isn't this a good thing? From a global perspective, you should be heaping praise on an educational system that has unselfishly contributed to the betterment of humankind. collapse

There is far from any sort of consensus on the issues you raise. The solutions will undoubtedly be much more complex than the simplistic fashion in which they were put forward in your reporting. I would encourage others with informed and varied perspectives to come forth and join the discussion.



6/23/05
As a historian, I feel compelled to point out how many times over the centuries adults have sung the "Young People Today" lament. My students run the gamut, as I suspect is the case around the world. I have some terrific students who are interested in learning, know how to learn, and work very hard. They are like I was as a student. Other students come for the social life and freedom from parents. I had plenty of friends like that when I was in college. The point is, students probably haven't changed much--certainly our perception of them has not. collapse

Thinking about how education can be improved is never a fruitless effort. Bemoaning the alleged weaknesses of students gets us nowhere.


Gael Graham
NC

6/23/05
DeFord is exactly on target. As further evidence, witness the thousands of local newspaper stories about athletes "signing" with colleges. Photos show these students surrounded by smiling parents, coaches, and recruiters. When was the last time a paper published an article about a student "signing" with a college to study any subject? No wonder college sports are so overemphasized and academics take a back seat. The "praise our valiant warriors" theme begins well before college.

Michael Theall
OH

6/23/05
I have been a college professor in the Arts at a Research institution for over 16 years. The "dumbing-down" of our society has certainly invaded higher education. I now feel like I am teaching high school. Administrations are pushing a "consumer-friendly" environment where a happy student is a good student. Happiness for most students today only comes in the form of an "A" in the class. Anything less is cause for complaint to administration. Professors are evaluated too heavily on student evaluations, which makes it more difficult to be demanding in the classroom. Student evaluations are never compared to the grade distribution in the class, so many professors view good student evaluations as the best way to get a raise or to receive tenure/promotion. (Easy "A's" equal good student evaluations.) collapse

Whatever happened to a system that rewarded teachers who were demanding and played to the top of the class rather than the bottom? I am happy that I have tenure so that I can remain demanding without fear of losing my job.........

As far as students - let them complain.............perhaps they may learn something in the process. As far as administrators, let the students and their parents complain..........perhaps they may learn something in the process.


Bruce Lecure

6/22/05
Higher education will never meet our expectations so long as we continue to require conflicting outcomes. We seem to have the expectation that every high school graduate will enter college and that every college freshman should finish his degree. This is unrealistic. A school that is less selective in its students will naturally tend to have a lower graduation rate, for which it will be condemned. But to raise graduation rates would result in cutting off opportunities for the few students who can pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and the school would be condemned for that too. Even the best outreach programs cannot compel an unwilling student to attend college and get good grades, but any student's failure is seen as a failure of the school? It just doesn't make sense. collapse

The completion of a college degree is one path to success in life, but it is not everyone's definition of success. Perhaps many of those students who are dropping out ARE achieving what their cultures define as success-- family and community involvement, ownership of a business, or earning just enough to make life a bit less uncomfortable, even if it's short of the maximum possible. It shows disrespect for their cultural values to insist that they must all go to college and get degrees, whether they want them or not. And yet we continue to measure our colleges by their freshman retention and graduation rates, when the question we really should be asking is "Can everyone be accepted who wants to come to college and work hard?" A level playing field will not necessarily result in everyone entering the race or everyone finishing the race at the same time.

So long as we measure a school's value by the unrealistic standard of mandatory college degrees for everyone, higher education will fail. And as soon as everyone has a college degree, it will (like a high school diploma today) no longer be worth anything. To paraphrase a popular children's movie, when everyone is special, no one is.


Sarah Natividad

6/22/05
My father was one of the privileged few that obtained a classical arts degree. He regretted wasting all those years. I was one of 8 people from a high school with about a thousand students that had marks good enough to go to university. I am now ready to retire after years of teaching in a high school, college and now university.

The times have changed. Society expects teachers to be able to teach every student and pass everyone. In 1900, passing grade eight meant you could read a newspaper and do all the math required to file your income tax by pencil and paper. Every student expects to graduate from whatever and obtain a high paying job at the end. collapse

Most professors have been academics all their lives, have never worked in industry and have very little interest in either preparing their students for high paying jobs, or working in these positions themselves. We now tell our bachelor graduates that they need further education in order to find a job.

I truly admire the few of my students who decide to walk a different path, travel the world, work 20 hours a week in a related field and work very hard to get a “B” in their subject. Over my 35 years of teaching, the three students that started their own business right after school impressed me more than the dozen or so that went on to obtain PhDs.


John Parks
BC

6/22/05
Of course students at colleges fail at alarming rates! Far too many students who are ill prepared for college are accepted. If the population of students has quadrupled, logic would reveal that the numbers of failures would also increase. Toss in the woeful state of elementary, junior and senior high school education. What is really surprising is that so many DO graduate! That also is an indictment of the college/university system. There are no real standards: if you have enough money and can "outwait" the system, you can "earn" a degree. Read chapter 17 of Patrick Allitt's book, I'm the Teacher, You're the Student.

Ron Marinucci

5/27/05
Many academicians are in this profession because we love it. We enjoy learning, we enjoy sharing what we have learned, and we enjoy seeing the passion for learning blossom in students. Like many independent artists who pursue their career because of their love for it, we are also plagued by under-appreciation, lack of resources, low pay, and lack of job security. Can this affect how much we challenge our students? Might this cut into the time we take with each individual student, with each student paper, with individual analysis of each student's needs? Would a major league baseball player give it his all if he made $30,000 a year? (Or, as some adjuncts in my profession make, $18,000?) collapse

When I have to spend my summer working on all the jobs around the house that I can't afford to have someone else fix, when I have to care for elderly parents because I can't afford to hire someone to help care for them, when I worry nights about how to afford my own childrens' college tuition, when I wonder if my renewable contract will be picked up next year or not and whether I'll be left without insurance, then I sometimes feel unable to devote the time and energy that I want to give to students and to my profession. This affects students. This is not a matter of professors not caring, being too lenient, or not knowledgeable enough. It is a matter of expecting too much for too little for too long from too many who then get blamed for the nation's academic woes. If every year we cared enough about who got "drafted" to the best schools as art, business, or pre-law majors in the same way we care who gets drafted as a tight end; if we cared enough to build schools of the caliber and with the resources that our major league ballparks contain; if we start in high school to have boosters who raise money for academic resources in the same way we have boosters raising money for artificial turf; and if we honor different ways of learning and allow musicians, dramatists, and painters to express themselves and see these paths as careers and not hobbies, then perhaps we will begin to view academics not as proving grounds for who can inspire the students the best, but as a part of society that deserves funding and freedom to do what it can do very well--inspire and prepare the multi-faceted, multi-challenged, exciting, and dynamic students of today who are the citizens of the world of tomorrow. If you fund them, they--the trained professionals who can train others well--will come.


Name withheld by request

5/26/05
Imagine if universities stopped delivering education. Institutions could continue to select and admit students according to current criteria, thus preserving their reputations for excellence. Universities could continue to deliver degrees to those who stuck around long enough to meet some residency requirement but would no longer offer courses, give assignments, assign grades or supervise student work. What would the reaction and consequences be? Tenured faculty would breath a sigh of relief, as they would now be able to devote themselves fully to the pursuit of research excellence and thus ensure themselves brilliant academic careers and the admiration of their peers, deans and presidents. Students would be equally delighted to devote themselves fully to their other pursuits. Administrators would be spared the burden of a host of thankless tasks. The public purse would be spared some expense, as might students and their families if this benefit were shared with them. How many eventual employers of university graduates would notice any difference and how many bridges would in fact fall down?
collapse Universities are not run to meet social needs and, not only is there is no incentive for them to do so, but it is seen as contrary to their purpose. Other than in a very small number of professional areas, little of what is taught in universities is intended to have any direct relevance for future employment and it may further be unclear how much of what happens to students in their time at university might be better explained by simple selection and maturation factors than by any education they are forced to endure. The intent of my example is to provoke thought about the core social function and value of universities and their teaching mission. I would be horrified were anyone to take this proposition as prescriptive. Yet, I now wonder if that is not now so far from the current direction in university decision-making. Without a vision of the value of university teaching and learning that is equally compelling as that of the value of research, there can be no future for the teaching mission of universities.

Ron Melchers
CA

5/26/05
I have been teaching in college classrooms for eight years. I was initially shocked at the differences between college *way back* in my day and today. Now I struggle to move past this by spending a tremendous amount of my time (since I am just an adjunct) in any prof. development courses/seminars open to me. Yes, open to me. Despite offering my own time (i.e., unpaid), I am sometimes turned down by the very institutions that supposedly have their emphasis on education. So I wonder if the students are the only ones whose values have shifted. Our colleges struggle to survive financially and cut corners like any business. Maybe our whole culture needs to learn to value education again -- not just the students.

Christine Foster
NJ

5/26/05
This is a tough situation. As an associate dean, I have to push my faculty to retain students (give "swimming lessons") without convincing them that it is a "no matter what happens, pass them" situation. As we do more and more remediation, students take less and less ownership of their own learning. The wails of "you didn't teach me that" resound through the halls when a student fails a board exam. There is no recognition of "I didn't learn that information although it was available."

Colleen Wagner
WI

5/26/05
I work with community college students (and many university students coming to our institution to "restore" their GPA!) and am quite concerned about the lack of skills and knowledge that many students demonstrate. We are also now serving students, and rightfully so, who would not have attended college in the past and we need to do a better job of supporting the success of all students in completing college once they get in. An "open door" unfortunately operates all too often in both directions. Students come in and leave within a short time because they have not developed the skills, knowledge, will, and self-regulation that are required to make their learning last.

We cannot simply wring our hands and blame it on the "system", we must take more effective action to provide students what they need, teach them how to learn more effectively, and then challenge them to perform at levels that will serve them for life. This program sounds like a much needed "wake up call". I look forward to seeing more.

Tobin Quereau
TX

5/26/05
I work in the counseling center at a small liberal arts university and am very curious to see the documentary. As I work with students, I'm amazed at the indignance they have that their professors would expect so much more from them.

Cheryl Stumpf
PA

5/26/05
Thanks you for bringing this issue to the front. I teach the only developmental course offered at a small college which has open admissions (a free, not for credit course). The students at my site are 85 % ESOL, and most of them are unable to do high-, or even middle-school level reading and writing. I teach the developmental writing course which is supposed to fix it all in one or two semesters.

Interestingly, as the article describes, success ends up being mainly up to the students and their individual volition/character. About half are motivated, rise to the challenge, begin to enjoy the brain-stretch involved in learning. The other half complains, skips class, plagiarizes or turns in work that took 15 minutes to complete. It's up to me to decide what to do with them. Some, I pass along with a low grade, some, I fail. A few who only speak English at a minimal conversational level may be convinced to repeat the course (again for free) even though it is not what they need- but it's all we have to offer. Some of those refuse to retake the course, and enter the college courses anyway. collapse

Ultimately many drift through college, few make the most of the learning opportunities. I could go on and on. Supposedly we are at this site to do a service to the community by offering people the opportunity to get a college degree who may have been denied that chance before, but in the end, it's more of a disservice because they've gone into debt to pay for an education that has not even prepared them in academic literacy as well as some high schools do.

We need more developmental courses, but students will not pay for them. It all goes around in a big circle of sighs. I tell myself to be happy if I reach one or two students per class and help them see the joys of reading/writing/the academic brain-stretch.

This time I reached six, and the satisfaction is almost overwhelming. However, some of the students not reached complained about the work load, and now I'm on the hot seat. The unwritten message from the administration is "Don't fail the students or give them incompletes because they'll drop out." I feel powerful and powerless at the same time, like one of my favorite words to teach the ESOL students: "bittersweet."

Thanks for listening.


Diane Paxton
MA

5/24/05
This is an extremely important topic. Having worked my way through school, I saw the importance of earning a college degree, but it was not without difficulty. Sometimes the subjects were very hard and the professors were not always willing to help. However, if we do not continue to educate people, our world will be in a real mess. Along with declining funding from the state, higher education seems to be headed for trouble. WE can NOT let this happen!!! It is too important. I also feel that as the documentary states, a lot of students are just not ready for college right out of high school. Perhaps there should be some working programs at various levels to show the true results and importance of an education. Working with people in an environment where some do not have a degree can really make a person see the difference. Higher Education helps a person grow in many ways they otherwise might not - intellectually, mentally and professionally. These are very important attributes if a person is to succeed. I have some strong feelings on this subject but it is getting harder and harder for people to afford it much less pass the courses. For the people who want to pursue an education, I believe everything should be done to help them. This can only improve our world!

Name withheld by request

5/12/05
I'm a college professor, and agree about raising standards to make college more challenging. But there is a trade-off: More challenge means more students who drop out or flunk out. That goes against our administration's drive to increase retention. How do we get past this dilemma?

Name withheld by request

5/12/05
Your article in the New York Times was the most biased, slanted article I have ever read in my life. You should be ashamed of yourself, but of course you aren’t, you are more interested in selling papers and books.

Name withheld by request

5/07/05
Ten years ago my wife and I planned on sending each of our two kids to a state university. In Washington State, the legislature controls not only government funding of higher ed, but also tuition and enrollment numbers. Over the last 20 years, the Legislature has consistently decreased funding, but hasn't raised tuition enough to compensate and hasn't lowered the number of students admitted. Of course this results in declining quality. Our kids are and will be attending moderately selective private liberal arts colleges (Linfield in Oregon and Wooster in Ohio). collapse

We are not wealthy, but fortunately for us, good high school students get substantial tuition discounts. We also get some need-based grants and we have saved substantially for our kids. education.

Most of the other parents I know are unaware of the extent of the declining state support of public higher education. Many parents also refuse to believe that there is a connection between taxation, spending, and quality of any government service, including higher education.

Realistically, direct state subsidy of higher ed is not going to increase. I believe that tuition needs to be raised substantially at the public universities in this state and they should offer both need-based and merit aid with some of this revenue, just as the private colleges do. Community colleges should become slightly selective and should get more state funding in order to keep tuition low.


David Roseberry
WA

5/6/05
In response to Mr. Merrow's report in the NY Times, I wish he had offered a more balanced view of the University of Arizona's student body. I plan to graduate next week from the UA, with Honors in Entrepreneurship and a second major in Marketing, and I feel that I have invested and received far more from this university than Mr. Merrow conveyed in his article as the norm. As a transfer student from ASU and the nearby community college, I immediately recognized a far more studious and collegiate atmosphere on UA's campus. With time, that impression has evolved into a deeper understanding of the factors that contribute to such a campus environment. collapse However, Mr. Merrow never explored the many facets of such a dynamic and populous setting, nor did he describe the progress being made. Likewise, he failed to offer any comparative analysis of the University of Arizona, which I believe was rather reckless on his part.

As an alumnus of Dartmouth, Mr. Merrow cannot claim to truly understand the general student perspective of a larger public research university. That is because there often is no general student perspective. Many of us work hard and try to excel in our studies so that we may seek more prestigious careers after graduation. Many others do whatever it takes to merely get by, and still others never make it through 120 credit hours and receive a degree. Even within each category, one can find a plethora of stories - both positive and negative.

I personally transferred here three years ago and became a full-time student after trying to balance school and work with my long-term goals, thus it has taken me far longer than most students to graduate. Nonetheless, I have mostly felt satisfaction with my education over the last three years, and I have made every effort to limit my rare complaints to a productive conduit. As a result, I have taken pride in noticing how student complaints have been addressed by the administration on campus, and I have witnessed a great deal of progress at the same time.

In my time at the UA, I have also involved myself in a number of clubs and activities in order to positively affect my University and College. This involvement has helped me to learn several important statistics, most of which were ignored by Mr. Merrow's report. For instance, our rankings and reputation have been climbing almost universally, but mostly in key areas like business, engineering, creative writing, astronomy, and optical sciences. The state funds only 17% of the University's operating budget, although the UA has amassed three times as many research dollars than the other two in-state universities, and the President's fundraising campaign provided $1 billion over the last several years, to offset the deficit that we would otherwise face. Tuition has increased, and differential fees implemented, to add even more funding to programs in need. And the University of Arizona remains one of the most affordable schools across the nation.

All of the improvement efforts that I have observed appear to have paid off. Faculty retention has improved, diversity on campus has increased, and our overall reputation has climbed. And yet Mr. Merrow chose to attack the issues of grade inflation and student retention in isolation. Yes, I believe that both problems exist, but I also believe that their effects are diminishing, due to the efforts of students, faculty, and staff.

In a world where reputation means so much to academic institutions, Mr. Merrow's blatantly biased focus on the University of Arizona filled me with anger and suspicion. Certainly he knew that his article could potentially be damaging, and yet he went ahead with painting a grim picture based on a few testimonials from my fellow students. I'm sure that he would have found the same types in any college town, sitting on barstools and bragging about how easily they beat the system or the system beat them. I should hope that the next article addresses grade inflation and purchased admissions at the premier Ivy League schools of the east coast, since I.m sure that Mr. Merrow could dig up equally entertaining stories on that subject. His focus on a struggling but improving program, such as ours, reeks of unfairness.

And as a final word, I would like to thank Mr. Merrow for informing me that words like .Thirstdays. are widely used around campus. As a student and bartender, I found this fact somewhat surprising. I had only heard that rap music and rock and roll are infiltrating our campuses at an alarming rate. I.ll have to look into this issue of college students marking their calendars for drinking days. I wonder whether this occurs at any other campuses.


Patrick Brennan
AZ

5/6/05
I attended a private liberal arts college and I KNOW that my education is responsible for my progress through 2 career changes. The wide breadth of undergraduate exposure and active involvement (6-10 students in a class) gave me the ability to respond to material that I wasn't necessarily already familiar with, and engage in a discussion about my opinions and forced me to learn to make an argument or to ask questions so that I could fully understand what was being debated. In this way, I learned that there is a "language" of inquiry, and that being fluent would enable me to be more interested in what was going on around me and it would enable me to always acquire new skills.

Elizabeth Hamilton
FL

5/6/05
I have a daughter starting HS in the fall and my son will be a freshman at St. Louis University living on campus. I am concerned that my son choose the right major. I want my daughter to understand how important it is to learn and be an educated person.

Elliot Raizman
MO

5/3/05
Considering and understanding the freedom of necessary exploitation as the foundation of journalism, I cannot stand by, defenseless, as the reputation of my institution of higher education is so erroneously reproduced in an effort by you, John Merrow, and your colleagues to profit from a semester's worth of work so sloppily researched and unabashedly off-topic. I can sympathize with your intentions; the inside perception of college life is enigmatic and at times confounding. Nevertheless, your analysis simply cannot satisfy any subjective reader's aesthetic, or scholastic, concern with the present state of affairs surrounding our country's colleges, and their students, because its observations are shallow, statistically incorrect, and unforgiving in their ambiguity, and may I say exploitative again (I think that I will), patchwork of stereotyped figures. collapse

I have so much more to say, but my status as a private middle/ college prep school achieving>>>economically and habitationally independent fifteen year old high school dropout>>>alcoholic/drug abusing underage full-time employed 4.0 community college student (legal studies)>>>president of Phi Theta Kappa >>>21 and 24 credit hour consecutive enrollment in an effort to graduate and transfer to the University of Arizona>>>wherein my first semester, a.k.a. vacation, I was awarded with a 0.0 G.P.A (still omni-present drinking and drugs-I sincerely hope you are intelligent enough to decipher the triggers vs. the normalcy of these patterns)>>>working my ass off in a respectable amount of summer, fall, spring classes in order to achieve and sustain my position at poverty level and break above that 2.0>>>worrying about a summer full of LSATs and 12-15 credits (in which any given class has no more than 30 students), in order to graduate in one year, while maintaining a "normal" social environment [still with the semi-present drugs and drinking because I have some extremely long and difficult final papers to write.]

Thanks for the writing warm-up, and please take your job more seriously before your editors begin to recognize your lack of meaningful productivity and you end up working for some local magazine. Don't go wasting that fine college education of yours =).


Name withheld by request

4/30/05
I have been a student affairs administrator in higher education for 27 years so this topic is of great interest to me. I am concerned about attrition rates and students finding the "right fit' for college to aid in their success and self esteem. I am very interested to hear from all sources their sense of what is going on across our nation in higher education.

Dianna Dale
NJ

4/30/05
As someone who just graduated college last May, all your stories resonated with me. I went to a medium sized public university in Illinois. Our total enrollment was about 22,000. I knew people who coasted through on alcohol and parties, so it was there, but my friends and I were the students who took the initiative, who talked to our professors, and who became involved with the campus community and our studies. collapse
We looked at our education as more than a means to a higher paying job, and we are fortunate we did, otherwise we would be even more disappointed and rudely awakened than we have been by the lack of solid employment gained from our four years, not to mention our massive loan debt.

I look back at my college years as a wonderful time in my life, because I learned a great deal in my courses taught by committed and approachable professors, and I learned a great deal about myself and the state of higher education today.

I excelled because I took the initiative, but there were also resources for me to seek out. I think we need to strike a balance between holding students' hands and leaving them to fend for themselves. Either situation exclusively does not help a student. It hinders them and hinders the growth of our society and our communities.


Renee Nilson
NY

4/28/05
I am a Librarian and Instructor at a Community college and am involved with students on a daily basis. I am concerned about how little many of our current students are aware of how to evaluate information and how to gather material together and produce a coherent written product.

Susan Bayer
IL

4/27/05
I'm a professor at UF, and I could not agree more with what you are saying.

I just completed a book on the topic to be published this summer by Rowman & Littlefield: UNIVERSITIES AS IF STUDENTS MATTERED: SOCIAL SCIENCE ON THE CUTTING EDGE.

John Scanzoni
FL

4/27/05
Found the firm and not-so-subtle implication that only the very wealthy could attend the $40,000 liberal arts college more than a little disingenuous. My son is a student at the same institution; he and many, perhaps most of his friends, receive massive amounts of aid, hence the high tuition costs for those that can afford to pay the "sticker price". We are white and definitely low-middle income level. Once, when asked by my son to attend a get-together of his friends, I was amazed at the "diversity"(and NO they were not rich Indians and Koreans- the fact that I have to mention this shows a certain finger-pointing as unbecoming and illiberal as it is truly racist). My son's friends range from scions of the wealthy to a son of Dominican immigrants, from an Iraqi Muslim to Jews from NYC and CA, from a Chicano princess to a guy who grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant. collapse He has dated women of ALL hues and backgrounds. The thing all of these kids had in common was that they were all smart as hell and had generally worked their asses off in HS (and continue to do so). And yes, they were lucky too. We feel very, very fortunate that the kid goes to such a school. But to imply as you do that this is basically the result of wealth shows an ideological basis (and bias) that, unfortunately PBS and NPR have become famous for (I am a Democrat who has never voted for a Republican-so please don't try to put me into your left-wing, victim / grievance culture stereotype of a right winger. Like the flowers, where have all the Liberals gone?). I have to get to work, the format does not allow me to view this as I would like and this is probably not as articulate as it could be. I just feel that this show will probably be a post-Moyers (you may not always have agreed with BM, but you knew where his heart was and he usually gave the other side a chance to sink or swim) type of hatchet job, with a type of class hatred that would do the right wing crowd proud were it inverted.

Name withheld by request

4/27/05
As a college professor deeply concerned about the current crisis in higher education, I find it strange and rather disturbing that, among your panel of "experts" on education, there is not one college professor included. The fact that professors wouldn't be considered important "experts" to include says quite a lot about the problem with higher education today.

Name withheld by request

4/26/05
I'm director of advising and retention at a small regional state university (fewer than 3,000 students). Our class sizes are relatively small and all are taught by faculty or adjunct faculty (we do not have TAs). Our retention rates have been above the national average for an open-to-liberal enrollment school for years, but have recently declined...decreased state funding, cuts to faculty and staff, tight budgets...typical state of higher education. Shockingly, we have seen an increase in the number of students who drop out mid-semester without officially withdrawing. Some live on campus and come back for another semester, others are never heard from again. Faculty and staff can submit early alert forms on students they feel are at risk of failure, but many still "fly under the radar." The state of higher education does concern me...especially now as students are coming in less prepared academically and personally and universities are cutting back on programs to assist these students in succeeding.

Heather Ferguson
MI

4/26/05
We’ve watched support for our wonderful university system dwindle, as money becomes tight and legislators look for programs to cut. There's a danger in cutting the very education systems which prevent brain drain from our state, yet there seems to be more a sentiment of education as being a drain on the economy than an asset.

Name withheld by request

4/26/05
When I flunked out as an unprepared freshman (from the migrant fields), it took me three decades to go back. I now have a master's which won best thesis at my college in 2003 and am working on my doctorate degree at the University of Arizona. I think financial support is the biggest advantage to do well in college, evident in your story about Britney whose parents both have good, stable jobs.

Alicia Jimenez
AZ

4/26/05
I’ve just returned from a college tour through the DC area with about 55 of my sophomores, all from the Bronx. It was an illuminating experience, to say the least - for the kids and for me - and I only wish we'd had this article/video beforehand to help prepare the kids for what they were going to see. What a great project - I can't wait to see it!

Anna Hall
NY

4/26/05
Mr. Merrow,

I enjoyed your work in the past but have some problems with your article.
Although I know your intent is not to paint community colleges in a bad light, some of the issues in your article are, at least, misleading in regard to the role that community colleges play in higher education.

I would refer you to a recent (Feb 2005) report by Clifford Adelman from the Dep. of Education titled, "Moving Into Town and Moving On: The Community College in the Lives of Traditional-age Students," to gain a better perspective on community colleges and their roles in higher education.

Throughout your article you mention 4-year colleges which are going to improve their retention and graduation rates by being more and more restrictive in their admissions policies. As open enrollment institutions, community colleges don't have that luxury. We accept all who come through the door and try to help make up for the inadequacies of their P-12 education before they enroll in college level work. So, the 4-year colleges' solution is, basically, not to open high education to the masses, to leave the development of students during their first two years to the CCs, and then to complain about how CC students in 4-year colleges don't do well when they transfer. collapse In your NYT article you mention:

"Nationally, only 23 percent of Hispanics who start college finish with a bachelor's degree, and only 18 percent who start in a community college and transfer to four-year institutions finish at all, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. The University of Arizona's record is considerably better - 47 percent graduate - and it is working to attract more Hispanic students, sending representatives into elementary schools to talk to parents about how to prepare for the U."

So, the University of Arizona cherry-picked top students (in comparison to an open-door policy) and then bragged that their grad rate was higher than CC transfers?

In Chapter VI - The "Cooling Out"/Diversion Critique Revisited, Adelman addresses the perceived poor performance of community college students as they transition to 4-year institutions. To quote part of that chapter (Page 109):

“The community college does not serve the right-tail of academic preparation of secondary student students. This is an understatement, and something the cooling out/diversion critique rarely notices. When more than 60% of its entering traditional-age population requires some remediation - and nearly 20% in remedial reading - the community college faces considerable challenges in bringing even a modicum of its students to credentials. Jenkins and Boswell (2002) point out that one of the reasons we see an increasing spread between remediation rates in community colleges and 4-year institutions is that at least 10 states preclude or discourage public 4-year institutions from offering remedial course work."

In contrast to the bleak picture painted by your statement that, "only 18 percent who start in a community college and transfer to four-year institutions finish at all, according to the Pew Hispanic Center," I would like to offer the following from the Dept. of Ed. study:

"The bachelor's degree completion rates for traditional-age community college transfer students who enter a 4-year college any time after 10 community college credits and earn more than 10 credits from the 4-year institution are very high. For high school classes of 1972 and 1982, with 12 and 11-year histories, the bachelor's degree completion rate for these 'classic transfers' was 72%, and for the 8.5 year history of the High School Class of 1992, it was 62% (Adelman 2004, table 4.4, pg. 50). Two successive Oregon State system six-year graduation rate studies in the 1990s showed community college transfers who entered 4-year colleges with a minimum of 45 credits completing bachelor's degrees at the same 62% rate (Arnold 2001). A two-year study of 45,000 upper division community college transfers (with a minimum of 56 credits) to the California State University (CSU) system (1978-79 and 1990-91) marked a 60.8% bachelor's degree attainment rate - versus 46.8% for a parallel group of 53,000 first-time CSU 'native' students (Garcia 1994). (My note: Native students are those who started at the 4-year college.) While the initial universe was defined in a slightly different way, and was further constricted to those who earned an A.A. degree, an 8-year Florida longitudinal study (1994-2002 - roughly the same time period as that for the High School Class of 1992) of 6,200 transfer students yielded a 74% bachelor's degree attainment rate (Goosman, Copa, and Wright 2004). In counterpoint to the cooling out/diversionary theories, these large national and state system studies tell a powerful and positive story about the success of community college transfer students." (Page 112).

So, the title of your section about "Getting Off the Community College Track" which casts a negative picture of the community college role might better be titled, "Get on the Community College Track for 4-year Success."

Please do your homework in describing the community college role in your future articles and the PBS series. Read Cliff Adelman's report and get your facts straight. This is not a criticism and I applaud you in your effort. Please keep in mind that the "Survival of the Fittest" does not exclude community college students and often the "fittest" are those who have the furthest to go educationally, economically, culturally, and socially. The community college is serving a valuable role in preparing students for completion of 4-years degrees by addressing the students' needs directly and not by manipulating entrance requirements and cherry-picking students in order to create higher graduation statistics.


Wayne Stone
IL

4/25/05
As a proud alumnus of the University of Arizona who has remained involved with my alma mater since my 1967 graduation, I was stunned and disappointed with your one-sided portrayal. You could have mentioned some of UA's outstanding retention programs, such as "Finish in Four", freshman courses with Regents' professors, and the MANY other programs designed to help incoming freshmen thrive in a large-university environment. You could have written about the successes of our groundbreaking SALT (Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques) center for students with learning disabilities, the model upon which nearly every other such program in the US is based. You could have taken notice of the utter lack of personal responsibility exhibited by most of the students you interviewed.....a result, not of the UA experience, but of their upbringing and prior education. Finally, the University of Arizona receives less public funding than any other educational institution in your story. Yet as a Research I university, we are recognized around the world for our leadership in Optics, Space Sciences (we receive more funding from NASA than any other school in the country), Architecture, Law, MIS, Social Sciences and more. This is not an accident; it is the result of years of dedicated effort by UA administration, faculty and alumni to create a student-centered University that is second to none. Please call me. I'd like to help you write the other side of the Arizona story, for publication in the New York Times.

Terry Seligman
CA

4/24/05
I am a student at the University of Arizona and recently read your article titled, "Survival of the Fittest." The quality of higher education has been topic of interest for me for quite some time now. A few weeks away from graduation from the University of Arizona, I have also noticed the declining caliber of intellectual curiosity that I feel all students should leave college with. I find our current approach to education both dated and depressing. How is it that a superpower like America can have such little forethought as to neglect the resource that is perhaps their most valuable in the decades to come? I am speaking of the human resource, a resource that most economists measure with objective output produced. We are much too concerned with producing members of society that are able to party their college years away to enter a middle income job, and settle into a middle class life, and then spend their next forty years with little desire for progress, aside from perhaps their salary that is. Our educational institutions need a much more focused plan to deal with overcrowding of institutions as well as enabling students to find and pursue a vocation that they find personally gratifying and intellectually stimulating. collapse

Perhaps this is a utopian vision of mine, but our institutions of higher learning cannot continue as they have been. They need to adapt to a changing marketplace where American jobs are being exported overseas and much more qualified people are being imported to fill jobs many middle class Americans are not skilled enough to perform.

Being an economics major, I find most economists answers at odds with the current employment trends. Economists contend that the outsourcing is simply a result of the nature of comparative advantage, and because the cost of living in America has become too high, companies opt to increase their profits by shipping jobs overseas. This, the economists argue, will create a progressive movement in our economy creating better jobs with higher wages for Americans. But how is this when the excess supply of labor keeps wages down, and companies opt for better trained individuals from overseas? It's a question that must be addressed in the years to come.

I thank you for addressing one of the most pressing issues in America in the years to come. Your report will hopefully spearhead a movement that will revolutionize the way children are taught and adults contribute to society.


Pankaj Raval
AZ

4/24/05
Accurate account of the bewilderment of freshman attending a public university (main campus). My daughter does. But no recommendations for solution(s). The general decline in educational achievement of the population is alarming. Private colleges and universities are unaffordable, except for the upper income families. Still, I have to add that binge drinking among freshman is not new to this time. Fraternities at the elite Ivy schools were largely party houses in the 1960s when I attended. But then most attended class and did a lot of studying. Overall, an effective introductory treatment of an important topic. I look forward to the book.

David Permar
OH

4/24/05
As a 2003 graduate of the University of Arizona, I found some of the stories related rather sobering. I took the path chartered for me by a few entrance exams during orientation but rearranged my entire schedule the second week of classes, one extremely hot August day in 1999. I would not have been able to do so if it had not been for older mentors that I knew at the U.

Further, the lack of professorial interaction is shocking. Admittedly, since I started out as a general biology and English major, I found the lack of student/professor interaction to be drastically low in the sciences. Within the English department, I thrived. After two large survey courses, I began to work one-on-one with actual, flesh and blood professors, who encouraged me. Even within the general requirements, I had a wonderful experience - getting to know professors and TAs alike. collapse I think all too often the student is quick to write off the TA as not the professor, therefore one who knows nothing, but their input and encouragement may be incredibly valuable, more valuable than a seventy year old, generally white male, who might be out of touch with what life means to an eighteen-year-old trying to make way in the culture, counter-culture, subculture or what have you.

Understandably, Mr. Merrow is providing a general survey of five students. Thankfully, with the last student, I felt saved. Each student at a large university will lose himself or herself in the shuffle, but it takes one's volition to pull oneself out and make something out of one's education. It is sad to see someone flush their four years in vodka shots, beer, altercations and a night out at Dirtbag's (local bar). Mr. Frye's experience is something on a whole other level. Some of us know the 'tutors' who helped out the athletes. Nevertheless, I do not know where I would be without the excitement garnered by March Madness in Tucson. I truly think that UA has the ability to make quality persons ready to take their degree and make something out of it. I made it to law school, work at the Arizona Department of Education, and teach constitutional law at an inner city high school. I have many peers who have done similarly and are most content with the education they received at the University of Arizona. I am interested in seeing the entire documentary. I hope my input will create a few counterpoints to the article. Thank you.


Sharon Ng
AZ

 
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