Thursday, 18 October 2007

Credential inflation

Laura at 11D interacts with her baby-sitter and discovers a certain lack of rigor in courses at a local community college, leading to the following inquiries:

More students are in college than ever before. But how many of them are getting degrees that mean something? Why aren’t they ticked off that they are spending thousands on empty degrees? Why are the colleges not enforcing some rigor?

I’m sure Prof. Karlson would attribute many of these problems to the “access-accommodation-remediation-retention” model being followed at the lower and middle tiers of contemporary academe, but I’m not sure the fault isn’t in ourselves and the incentive to overindulge our students. My observation, which I posted at 11D, follows:

I think to many kids, college education these days is all about getting the credential, even at good schools (several different departments I interviewed with last year had the same observation, including at some very good schools). The fact that they don’t have to work very hard, or the expectations are low, is a feature, not a bug. Coupled with the over-reliance on student evaluations in decisions on faculty retention, tenure, and promotion, the incentive structure for faculty to teach rigorous courses just isn’t there.

I’m sure there’s more to the story than the demand side of the equation—certainly there exist departments and colleges where there is no institutional commitment to maintaining a high quality of instruction, and the AARR model isn’t blameless either—but students who don’t demand good classes probably won’t get them.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

I don’t agree that student evals are taken that much into consideration for tenure and promotion. I think the easy classes are in large part our own fault because, let’s face it, bad teaching takes very little time and if you give high grades then students won’t complain about it.


Perhaps I was thinking too much of my experiences at an institution where getting evaluations below the mean—which was six on a seven-point scale—were the short route to contract non-renewal.

But I’ll certainly grant professorial laziness as a partial explanation too; the alleged truce at another institution was “if you don’t bother the students, they won’t bother you.” Of course, then 88 of the faculty decided to bother the students and all hell broke loose, but that’s a story for another book or six.


See link for scholarly debate on credential inflation, including papers
and books.

Odd—wiki has no listing for it, and neither does
Denial, I suppose?

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