kitchen table math, the sequel: Students Talking About Student Life

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Students Talking About Student Life

Over at The Atlantic a guest blogger brought up for discussion a study showing students don't really learn anything their first two years at college, then he posted for further discussion some of the replies he received Student Life: Still More Views. All of it was interesting, but these two three comments really caught my attention.

There were many students that were thoughtful, interested, and hardworking. They did assigned readings, asked good questions in class, were ready to debate and argue, etc. THE MAJORITY WERE NOT. My friend and I would complain. We always thought that, yeah, you have to put up with people who aren't really interested in learning in high school, but then they get weeded out in college. Not the case, at least not at [my university]. My friend has since gone on to law school at a top 40 program. He thought that by graduate studies, those TRULY uninterested would have gone another way. Yet he still finds himself, at times, sitting next to students who have no intellectual curiosity or even a strong work ethic. I had one political science professor, who in a moment of candor during office hours, noted that when he taught at Princeton, he taught the same identical class (intro to political philosophy) and in the identical way. It was no harder at Princeton, and he was no different. The only difference he noted was the caliber of the students. Whereas at [the state university] there was a bell-curve distribution of a few As, some Bs, and lots of Cs and Ds, at Princeton, there were hardly any slacker students.

A different commenter said:
I went to a private, top 20 liberal arts school in New England for undergrad. I now attend a large state university as a grad student, and what I have to say about the quality of undergraduate education between the two institutions is this: state schools suck.

A professor's point of view:
As a tenured professor with a 22-year career teaching history at a "comprehensive public university," here are my reactions to Mr. Tierney's interesting musings on Contemporary Student Life....Most of the negative changes I have seen in college education began in the period when college aid, which tended to be dependent on performance in school, but which did not burden students with heavy debts upon graduation, was converted to loans, which are not usually as closely linked to getting good grades, but do burden students with debts. Result? Students want to get through school as quickly and efficiently as possible, to minimize their debt, and they are less concerned about grades. So they put more time into work, to try to work their way through, or overload their schedules, to get more units for each semester's loan money, and less time into study. (He/she also mentioned two other possible reasons)

Is this true?


Anonymous said...

I will observe that the quotes sound like they all come from non-STEM major students.

20 years ago I did not notice a lot of slacking in, as an example, my freshman physics for physicists/engineers class or my sophomore organic chemistry class. I attended a California UC school.

-Mark Roulo

Niels Henrik Abel said...

Yeah, 20+ years ago things were a different story. Can't say I'm surprised now, though. The more college becomes the new high school, the more prevalent this type of thing will become.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, 20+ years ago things were a different story. Can't say I'm surprised now..."


I've got a Robert Heinlein essay from the late 1970s in which he is/was complaining about how non demanding university education was with specific examples from University of Colorado and UC Santa Cruz. One of his complaints was that if you wanted to do so, the university would baby sit you for four years and then give you a degree for not burning down the library. Or something like that.

He also noted that you *COULD* get a first rate education at most decent universities IF YOU WANTED TO DO SO.

The 1958 Life magazine five part series on the disaster that was US education (mostly K-12) could have been written today. The complaints are *IDENTICAL* :-) The series is quite eye opening in the sense that nothing seems to have changed.

So ... maybe things are worse. But I'd like something concrete, not just a gut feel. And I'd like to split out highly ranked (say, top 100 or so) from the rest and STEM from non-STEM.

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

Is what true?

That students don't study? Have no intellectual curiosity? Private liberal arts college life might have a better subculture than state U? That students try to put more time into work than school?

What's true is that most students in college don't belong in college if you think college is supposed to be in pursuit of knowledge. They are spending 4-6 years drinking, drugging, and wh0ring on their parents' or the taxpayers' dime. They are there to get their credential. And even if they were there for some other reason at the beginning, the culture they are sinking in almost always wins out.

You should read I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe.

It's all true. Wolfe nails everything about college life perfectly, except maybe that it doesn't usually work out so well in the end. And yes, he nails perfectly that the top elite schools are just as sick a culture as schools with less prestigious students, though perhaps a naive student will get lucky and not notice.

Allison said...

Mark, re: the idea that maybe it's been this bad for a while: I think people underestimate how bad things were since the 60s, but now they underestimate how thoroughly transformed the culture is.

William F. Buckley wrote God and Man at Yale in the 50s, and that book demonstrates that the academy had already turned. But now, there's no individual bastions of knowledge left to guide someone interested, and the peer pressure to spend your time on anything other than intellectual pursuits is extraordinary, without being intentional.

Anonymous said...

The students I know (engineering students at UCSC) work pretty hard. I don't see many slackers in the senior and graduate engineering classes. I do see some who are not able to keep up, due to inadequate prior preparation in math or writing, and I do see some who aren't all that bright, but not many slackers.

Allison said...

What do you mean, not many slackers?

How many hours a week do you think kids in eng at santa cruz are spending on homework? In what majors?

I guess it's 10 years ago now, but the ugrads I knew there in the CE/CS branch couldn't be bothered to spend ten hours a week on courses. That's on a FULL LOAD. Sure, if they were taking an OS course, every couple weeks they'd pull an all nighter. But these were kids who spent a lot more time playing video games and getting stoned than they did ever doing the problems in the book. Their math classes were really weak. They weren't expected to write a proof properly at all, and they were taking discrete math, or computation theory, etc.

Most of them were used to Bs and As for work that I would have called D or at best C, but I was merely a grad student who had no say.

K9Sasha said...

The professor states that student behavior has changed in response to the way financial aid is awarded. I was wondering whether that statement is true.

Allison said...

-- So they put more time into work, to try to work their way through, or overload their schedules, to get more units for each semester's loan money, and less time into study. (He/she also mentioned two other possible reasons)

Whether he's right that the negative changes date from the change from grants to loans, I find the above statement of his to be opposite of what I viewed anecdotally.

Now, granted, I was in college 20 years ago, and in grad school 10 during the height of the go-go economy, so I knew kids taking loans to buy Cisco or a house. Subsidized student loan rates were lower than inflation--and anyone could figure out working was for suckers if you could get free money. Those I knew on loans weren't bothering to work harder, or get out sooner. They were borrowing to the hilt and living it up, not worried at all about graduating quickly, and not working a job at all. The more money they got in loans, the less they worked, and the more likely they were to drop courses and lighten their load. It was play money. So why if you're playing wouldn't you study?Because there was little incentive to leave school, and little incentive to work hard.

Anonymous said...

I used to teach at the University of Warwick in UK, which, to get into, a student needs top grades in their 'A'-level exams (taken at c.18). Warwick is, along with Cambridge, Oxford and so on, one of the Russell Group of universities. The students I took were switched-on, tremendously hard-working and really had to put in the work to complete their courses.
At another university I taught at (which shall remain nameless!) many of my students would attend only the first lecture and that would be the last I saw of them. Why? Because they had only to complete one piece of work. So, what they'd do was attend the first lecture, make notes and produce the only required essay on that topic. After that, it was off to the local burger bar to earn some cash, not that I was unsympathetic to that but felt that it shouldn't be to the detriment of their university studies.
As well as that, I was always under pressure to pass students whom I felt weren't up to it or simply hadn't attended the course. It's hardly surprising that many employers are for ever complaining that graduates aren't up to the job.

Grace Nunez said...

Niels wrote:
He also noted that you *COULD* get a first rate education at most decent universities IF YOU WANTED TO DO SO.

I strongly suspect this is true, but that you can also slide by if you wish. And, given the option, many slide.

Grace Nunez said...

I'm surprised to see that Allison minimizes the idea that STEM majors do work hard, at least at that one college. I've always taken it as fact that most STEM students work much more than other students do, and I certainly observed it first hand many eons ago when I was in school. Based on parent conversations at my son's college, it is still the case there.

Allison said...

I think most students at most colleges work very little, but the "good" students and high performers don't know this because of massive selection bias: they are or were good students who thought (maybe not always accurately) that they were working extremely hard, and so were their peers.

Santa Cruz was the weakest school I came in contact with, assuredly. But my real point was that even the "hard working" are spending hours a days on carousing or video games rather than their homework.

There are two issues: the first is the literal expectation from the school. Ugrads at Cal (which I know from time I spent there during my ugrad days, time I spent there taking ugrad courses, and time I spent there as a grad) in the same majors as their peers at MIT literally had half the work--they were assigned a 5 problem problem set instead of a 10 problem one each week, expected to do 3 experiments a term in lab not 6, did 2 chapters less of the same text book in a 1-week longer semester. This was true in math, physics and CS. UC Santa Cruz didn't come close to the workload of Cal in those fields, where they would do even less chapters of a book in a year, even less problems per week.

But the second issue is how many students in the majors are getting by doing little--not going to classes, not attending lecture, not reading their textbooks, cribbing heavily from "bibles" of problems sets and assignments before them, resting on the laurels of the smart person in the group, putting no thought into what they are doing, what it means, why it's working.

The college culture in STEM fields is just as intoxicated. At a school like MIT, where everyone claims to be working like crazy all of the time, what you'll find is huge numbers of kids have wiled away their time, staying up late playing games, watching TV, socializing--all with copious quantities of altering substances--and then pull all nighters to make up for it. This is the norm in most living arrangements, and the culture of dorm or frat life eats away at the good student.

The same is true at Cal, though the demographics are different. I have no idea what happens with the Chinese kids, or the Russian kids, because they never let anyone in who didn't speak their primary language. Maybe they studied. But the American kids spent more time watching the Simpsons than they did working on problem sets on any given night.

Most students aren't working 5-10 hours a week per class. They are working significantly less. They don't attend class regularly. They don't go to office hours regularly. They are getting by, but they brag about how hard they working for more hours a day than they actually spend studying.

Allison said...

Nothing I've said precludes the fact that liberal arts kids work even less. I do think STEM kids work more than other students. I just think it's a travesty how little that is.

More, if you are sending your kid to college with the notion either your head or his that it will be an intellectually fulfilling experience for them, you need to disabuse yourself of that right now. That is why parents (and seniors) should read I am Charlotte Simmons-- to help correct that notion.

Anonymous said...

I think Allison and I may be observing different subsets of the UCSC engineering students. The courses I've been teaching for the past several years have only seniors and grad students in them. It is the case that the grad students work harder than the undergrads, at least in their first year (perhaps because they have to impress a faculty member enough to get an adviser, perhaps because the selection criteria for getting into grad school are much stronger).

I can easily believe that the first couple of years of engineering classes (the classes that would have TAs) have a large share of slackers. Many of these courses have a failure rate of 30% or more. It does take a while to change the culture of the students, either by changing the attitude of the students or by eliminating the slackers.

Few of the slackers in engineering survive to reach my classes. Those few who do then fail my course (up to 3 times in some cases---I can't claim that there are no slackers left at the senior level).

The time spent in lab on senior design classes is observable, and is certainly much higher than 5-10 hours a week.

Incidentally, the engineering students are generally studying more than the science students (at least, in classes with both bio-engineers and biology students, the bio-engineers report more hours per week on the course and get higher grades).

Allison said...

I think UC Santa Cruz's Eng school has made a concerted effort to bring in higher caliber grad students, often foreign, and has brought in bright, ambitious professors who need tenure and work their grad students accordingly.

But that isn't translating into a change in undergrad culture.

You said you don't see slackers, and then you totally backed away, saying eng courses have a failure rate of 30% or more--that's serious slacking, as it takes a LOT to actually fail a course when you could manage to muddle through with a C. C students abound at a place like Santa Cruz.

But again, you are suggesting that until senior year, they aren't spending more than 5-10 hours a week on a class. That's appalling--they should be spending 5-10 hours a week per class from the beginning.

Lisa said...

This is a huge topic of discussion in our home. My 18 yo is horrified by her peers at a well respected, private college. By the end of the semester she and 5 other students were about all that were showing up in one class. Many students just handed in assignments when they felt like it. She had to participate in group projects. In two of them at least one member of the group never even came to meetings, simply showed up for the presentation. She is on an academic scholarship and is doing the fast forward (4 years in 3) program so she is motivated but she wonders 1) why don't others care about their own future and 2) why are their parents supporting these behaviors (assuming they are clued in at all). She is not a STEM major choosing instead (grumble, grumble) to major in education. Makes me even more concerned about the public schools if her classmates don't mature rapidly.

Allison said...

Generally, parents are clueless about these behaviors. Just as they are sure *their* children aren't doing massive amounts of drugs, and *their* children aren't part of the casual hookup culture, they are sure *their* students are hard at work, even if they admit *other* students aren't.

But it's also something else: parents don't generally care about this problem, 1) because they still believe *the credential matters*, so even if their child is not learning much, at least they will be able to be part of that prestigious alumni network and get a prestigious job and land that position in the right company or in the right neighborhood, etc. and 2) parents still think even if the education is bad, at least *the chances of finding a good spouse and having subsequently good grandchildren* is higher than if the child goes to community college.

Status matters a lot more than knowledge to a lot of people.

Crimson Wife said...

When I was at Stanford in the mid-to-late '90's it did not require a lot of work to maintain an okay average in the humanities or social sciences. One did have to work hard if one was a STEM major, however.

I studied psychology and biology (at the time I was interested in going into medical genetics or genetic counseling). The classes in the latter field were significantly more challenging AND had much more stringent grading.

Crimson Wife said...

Parents still think even if the education is bad, at least *the chances of finding a good spouse and having subsequently good grandchildren* is higher than if the child goes to community college.

This has been true in my family. My grandparents met while they were grad students at Harvard/Radcliffe. My parents met while they were grad students at UC Berkeley. My aunt & uncle met while they were grad students at Yale. Finally, my DH and I met while we were undergrads at Stanford.

While finding a smart husband isn't the primary reason I'd want my daughters to attend a top college or grad school, it is something I'd hope would happen for them as well :-)

Allison said...

But CW, what are you calling an "okay" average? B? B+?

Because unless you want to go to grad school, most kids aren't worrying about their GPA. And once you've blown that B+ average, what's it matter anyway if you get a few Cs here or there? Why would students continue to care?

Anonymous said...

Lisa - On another website I was informed, rather rudely, by a CA teacher that there was no such thing as an undergrad ed major; I made some comments about ed schools. CA apparently does things its own way.

CM; Back in the dinosaur era, both parents and girls openly expressed the view that college was for getting the Mrs. degree. My freshman roommate said the goal of her fellow sorority types (and many others) was to get pinned by junior year and engaged by senior.

ChemProf said...

Back in the 90's, when I was at Harvey Mudd, it was always interesting to take non-STEM classes at the other Claremonts. It became clear quickly that just doing the reading and getting in your papers on time pretty much guaranteed you would be above average, and gave you a good shot at an A. And that was at first-tier privates 20 years ago.

Having taught at a range of schools (Berkeley, as a grad student, where I taught Gen Chem, a larger private, a cal state, and my current liberal arts college), I found that the top students were very similar everywhere. They worked hard on all their classes, and were intellectually curious and focussed. What changed at different institutions was the distribution. There were slackers in Gen Chem at Cal, but fewer than at the cal state (where Mom and Dad would keep paying the bills as long as you weren't flunking). There, I found a huge bulge of students scraping by with C's, which I didn't see at the privates. There I saw a few who were really slacking, but they were relatively rare (that is, maybe 10% of the class instead of half of it). Again, this is all in chemistry classes, for what it is worth!

ChemProf said...

Anonymous - California's situation is more complicated than that other (fairly rude) commenter said it was. For ELEMENTARY education, you just need an academic undergraduate degree, which can include a degree in Liberal Studies which is pretty much Elementary Education dressed up. No one opts for that major unless they plan to teach elementary school. Most of these programs used to be "waiver programs" where if you got the degree you didn't have to take the state exam. Those waivers went away about five years ago, so standards have gone up recently. But those liberal studies programs are still not exactly rigorous. And the students entering education programs in California are not exactly the cream of the crop.

Here's the website for a local (East Bay) well-respected program. Notice they don't include a profile of admitted students and that they don't require the GRE. This is a stronger program than others in the area.

Anonymous said...

Chem Prof - for the undergrad Liberal Studies degree for el ed, are specific courses required across a specified array of departments; math, English, geography, history, sciences etc? or can kids just pick and choose whatever they want? That was the question I was wondering about on the other website. I'd think the former would be preferable - at least if geography courses still exist.

ChemProf said...

Programs vary a lot. Here's one from Cal State Stanislaus that is clearer than most, but generally, students choose courses from long lists (what I, in politically incorrect fashion, have called a Chinese Menu major - pick two from Column A and one from Column B). If the courses were better defined, these would be stronger programs, but for science courses, for example, figure most of them opt for Human Genetics or Physics for Poets or some other non-science major level course. In some cases, they have even had special courses created for them, like "Chemistry in the Elementary Classroom," which admittedly would probably be good preparation if required of ALL of them.

If you check out the link, you'll notice that for all it isn't called an Elementary Education major, the catalog and website are really clear that planning to teach elementary school is the only reason to choose this major.

Anonymous said...

Alison twisted my words a bit, or I was less clear than I had intended.

Here are my beliefs, as clearly as I can state them:

1) There are some slackers at every school and in every major, but the proportions differ.

2) In Engineering at UCSC, the proportion of slackers drops enormously after the first year of engineering classes (though not dropping it to 0).

3) The high failure rate for intro classes is partly responsible for weeding out the slackers. My saying that intro classes have high failure rates but I see few senior slackers in engineering is not "totally backing away", but consistent with the selection process that I believe is happening.

4) The proportion of foreign grads varies enormously from department to department, depending mainly on how strong the domestic applicant pool is. Departments like Biomolecular Engineering, with a relatively strong pool, accept few foreign students, while departments like Electrical Engineering end up with almost all foreign students.

Allison said...

But those intro classes aren't designed as weed out classes--they aren't C centered, are they? In CE and CS, absolutely not.

My main argument is that there are far more slackers in STEM than people realize or want to admit. Part of this is the selection bias of almost only developing relationships with good students who are trying hard, part of this is assuming the good students are working harder than they are, and part of it is the unwillingness to admit just how lax most schools have become in grading--so even students who think they are working hard, or who are working hard relative to the mean, aren't working even 10 hours a week per class. They are "working" if working includes time spent IMing their friends, doing problem sets while watching American Idol, etc.

Nothing GSW/OP says contradicts what I've said, but he implies that there really aren't as many slackers I claim.

To the issue of weeding kids out: I actually don't think a school like UCSC can distinguish who is weeded out for slacking vs who is weeded out for being unprepared--as in, working hard won't help them pass. Most state schools can't.

The reason I keep harping on this is because 1) I was a bad student, 2) I know and knew lots of bad students, 3) I know and knew lots of average or middlin students who weren't the ones teachers interacted with, and 4) these are the majority of kids in college today, even in STEM majors. College life today undermines kids who want to work hard. They may be working harder than their liberal arts counterparts, but that's far from the myth STEM folks maintain about walking 6 miles in the snow both ways to prepare for that P chem midterm.

ChemProf said...

Allison reminded me, as I am teaching p-chem this semester, that I always have to warn those students about the homework. Why? Because most of them were good-to-excellent students in Gen Chem who only spent an hour or so per week on my homework. The formatting looks the same on my p-chem homework so they plan on an hour or so, then are shocked when it takes longer. So yeah, there is more evidence that even good students aren't spending 10 hours per week on lower division classes, although anecdotally the middling students (those getting B's and working hard for that grade) do.

K9Sasha said...

Per their own comments: Allison is speaking from her experience as a graduate student 10 years ago. Gasstationwithoutpumps is speaking from her experience as a professor now.

kcab said...

Thinking about this, I'm inclined to think that the residential arrangements at most US universities may be more important than student loan vs aid. Students tend to be *very* influenced by the others in their living group, whatever that happens to be. I saw much the same thing as Allison at MIT, but from my perspective there was definite variation among living groups. Also, DH and a colleague were observing the other day that the strong years of undergraduates in their engineering department (at an elite private liberal arts school) coincide with the years when there are sizable clusters of students in one or two living groups.

Come to think of it, grad students are more likely not to be housed on campus.

Crimson Wife said...

My freshman roommate said the goal of her fellow sorority types (and many others) was to get pinned by junior year and engaged by senior.

I'm laughing because I actually did attend a number of "pinning" and engagement ceremonies at my sorority (including my own during my sophomore & junior years). I think it was around 1/4 of my pledge class who got engaged by graduation. All but 1 are still married a dozen years later (one sister divorced after only 5 months but has been happily remarried for several years now).

I think sorority girls are often more traditional than the typical college coed.

Allison said...

Yes, I am speaking anecdotally, except the kids who are "good students" aren't the top 75% of the kids in their major, they are the top 33%, max, and the middle are the average, and there's still the bottom third, too. The bias of people *here* remembering their hard work, and believing in others' hard work is skewed toward that top third.

Do you really think that the bottom two thirds are working as hard as the top third their sophomore and junior years? Or that that bottom 1/3 need be flunking out? That bottom third still graduates engineers. People here commonly inflate their idea of the mean because of the local mean of their neighborhood of peers.

kcab, Tom Wolfe makes that point quite well---subcultures matter. The residential arrangements at college today create subcultures that are overwhelming influences on behavior--and mostly, not for the better. But people conform rather quickly--they really have no choice. It's who we are as humans. We lose any sense of a norm for behavior outside of our immediate circle, so those behaviors become normal. Without a lot of external pressure, the evolving behaviors are almost always bad, which is why heavy adult involvement in some living arrangements (like at Harvard, say) can help. Still, some places manage. If the culture of a certain living group is to study hard, the student will regress to that mean. If the culture is to get wasted Thursday Tuesday, the student will regress to that mean.

MIT's idiotic idea of letting freshmen choose their living arrangements within the first week lends itself to clusters of dysfunction, but the real irony is that if you reversed who you assigned from Next to Sr. Haus, within 6 months, the assignees would behave just like they'd chosen those places as their first choice because of the semi-permanent culture already present. It's difficult to escape how humans are wired to behave socially.

Unsupervised coed dorm life is barely civilized. Parents and prospective students don't seem to be aware of this ahead of time. Wolfe's book is so accurate that it's vulgar about it without it ever being titillating--pitch perfect. But it's so crude that it almost makes me feel like adults can't alway give the book to high schoolers in good conscience.

kcab said...

I'll have to read that book, Allison. I can probably stand to do it now, it's still a few years until the oldest is in college.

I was thinking though, that it used to be easier to opt out of on-campus living as an undergrad than it is now. (At least, at the schools I know.) That's what I did, fairly quickly, with a couple other like-minded students from my living group. I have the impression that schools in other countries don't typically have the same sort of campus-living, and that could be for the better since students then have to conform more to the standards of behavior of the society in general.

MIT's living group assignments have changed some over the past many years. Though, I have to say that system was better than the one my sister encountered at UCSD - she was assigned to a suite of rather extreme partiers w/o having any say in the matter. (This is many years ago. It did have a lot to do with her dropping out.)

A bit off topic, but I was thinking that this: Harvard report - calls for better voc ed, alternate paths besides 4-year college was interesting to see come out.

ChemProf said...

Oh, yeah, living clusters can have huge impacts. We started running "themed" housing for freshman a few years ago, and one of the groups is the "science" group, for future majors. One thing we've found is that students in that group USUALLY do really well. Most are motivated, and when surrounded by other motivated, hard-working students, they really shine. One thing we've learned is that you can't count on the student/residential life folks to support this. They've actually been concerned that "the science group studies all the time!" It isn't just the other students, it can be the whole dormitory apparatus. (These same people actually turned down a student-requested science floor for upper classmen in favor of a superhero themed one. Sigh.)

Anonymous said...

The engineers at UCSC are now mostly clustered in Crown College, which may have some effect on their study habits.

The bottom third of the freshmen engineering students may graduate, but generally not as engineering majors.

Allison said...

I don't know if it's actually more difficult to opt-out, or if it's just a general impression that students *should be sheltered* from real life that's become the norm.

When students were young adults who worked and went to school simultaneously, they were adults and behaved as adults. But now we seem to view the pressure of bill paying, transportation, cooking, grocery shopping, etc. as too much for a full time student (who doesn't have a job) to handle.

Or maybe it's just this view that living the college life is the REASON to go to college--to have the college experience! rather than to learn certain knowledge or skills.

I agree with you that it would be much better for students to live as young adults, in the world, and then be expected to conform to society's general standards. Permanent adolescence would be more difficult to hold onto then. The larger state schools usually don't have enough housing to keep everyone in living group life, but too often they have student ghettos where normal civilization doesn't exist, either.

But I'm the person who thinks the best thing to do for a young person on their way to college is to have them defer for a year and work as a waiter or waitress, too, and I can't tell you how shocking that concept is to people when I tell them that. They are APPALLED.

Allison said...

I'm NOT talking about freshmen! The freshmen weren't the slackers I'm talking about--they were the ones you were talking about, claiming they'd gone away.

There is ALWAYS a bottom third to the seniors graduating as engineering majors--they aren't A students. The bottom third aren't B+ students. You can believe that the bottom third of seniors in bioengineering are better students than the mid and top juniors and seniors taking graph theory and computability in the CE/CS dept. Fine--I'll stipulate to that. But not everyone can be above average. And the average senior in CE/CS taking graph theory didn't spend three hours a week working on their math pset. You can believe something dramatic has changed in 10 years, fine. But those kids were Crown kids then and they still didn't take the courses seriously.

Lisa said...

Hmm, I hadn't considered the living situation. My dd commutes 2 hr daily and works 4 hrs/day. Perhaps she just isn't being as influenced by the peer group. At 18 it's probably pretty hard to study if all your pals/floor mates are going to a party, etc.

Allison said...

Not just "going to a party". They are partying in your hallway, in your stairwell, next door, or depending on your specific rooming arrangement, in your room (maybe you've got a closet for a bedroom, but your common space is overrun.) And there is often precious little you can do about it.

There are almost no enforced rules about curfews, guests spending the night, or any other general behavior. If your living group is really dysfunctional, it can be violent. I lived in a dorm where people routinely--weekly--bashed holes in walls, ripped doors of hinges, attacked innocent water fountains, and otherwise vandalized the place. Nothing was ever done to stop the vandals, and often the vandalism went unfixed for long stretches.

Weekends, it's common for the floor to be soaked in beer, the bass music pounding, and students to be vomiting in the hallways (not just the toilet). During the week isn't really much better.

The whole culture can discourage students from seeking remedy. In many cases, doing anything to say "this is unacceptable to me" makes you a prude, prig, snitch, or worse. Even the administration discourages the student by discouraging parents from getting involved, and by sending the message to students that asking parents for help (say, in pressuring the res life people to reassign you) is a sign of childishness rather than assertiveness.

But subtler things happen in living groups that undermine studying too. It's difficult to actually study when everyone else is "studying" by sitting together in a common room gossiping with their books open, letting one student do the problem while the rest copy it, or if computer lab time is really spent chatting and watching youtube. All but the most mature and independent students find themselves pulled down toward that. Few are able to really extricate themselves without physically moving out.

Crimson Wife said...

I'm sorry, but I have no problems with dorm parties on Friday or Saturday nights. Most adults kick back after a long workweek by socializing with friends over drinks. Aside from the legal drinking age issue (I personally believe it should be 19 rather than 21), what's so wrong with college students doing the same?

If I had some big project or paper or test and needed to work on a weekend night, I simply headed over to the 24 hour study room at the library.

College is about more than just academics- it's also about making the social connections that will help the student advance his/her career after graduation. The majority of good jobs once one passes a certain level are not advertised. The only way to find out about them is through networking with the right person.

Anonymous said...

Crimson Wife:

If you lived in a dorm, and wanted to eat breakfast on Friday or Saturday morning without navigating hallways, staircases, and elevators full of vomit, you might object to the dorm parties.

My impression, however, is that they are not nearly as bad now as they were when I lived in dorms in the early 70s (when the drinking age was lower).

hainish said...

The biggest problem I had living in a dorm wasn't partying, it was students pulling the fire alarm at 3:00 a.m. every night during finals week.

I'm not sure what their motivation was. (This was a no-frills state school.)

I also got sick a lot because my roommate would drape a blanket over her lamp and study while I tried to sleep. I became seriously ill from the sleep deprivation.

So, I would have preferred a closet for a bedroom. A _quiet_ closet.