The State of Higher Education in America — Ugh!

20 Sep

One of Walter Williams’ recent essays is entitled “Academic Dishonesty”, and highlights the sorry state of our colleges and universities.  Disgusting and scary at the same time – another nail in the coffin of “American Exceptionalism”?

Walter Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.  I have included excerpts from this essay below.  The full essay can be read at

Excerpts:  [Bolding is mine and content in brackets [ ] is mine]

College education is a costly proposition with tuition, room and board at some colleges topping $50,000 a year. Is it worth it? Increasing evidence suggests that it’s not. Since the 1960s, academic achievement scores have plummeted, but student college grade point averages (GPA) have skyrocketed. In October 2001, the Boston Globe published an article entitled “Harvard’s Quiet Secret: Rampant Grade Inflation.” The article reported that a record 91 percent of Harvard University students were awarded honors during the spring graduation. The newspaper called Harvard’s grading practices “the laughing stock of the Ivy League.”   [Other examples were included here.]    In the 1930s, the average GPA at American colleges and universities was 2.35, about a C plus; today the national average GPA is 3.2, more than a B.

Today’s college students are generally dumber than their predecessors. An article in the Wall Street Journal (1/30/97) reported that a “bachelor of Arts degree in 1997 may not be the equal of a graduation certificate from an academic high school in 1947.” .  .  .  Employers report that many college graduates lack the basic skills of critical thinking, writing and problem-solving and some employers find they must hire English and math teachers to teach them how to write memos and perform simple computations.

What is being labeled grade inflation is simply a euphemism for academic dishonesty.

After all, it’s dishonesty when a professor assigns a grade the student did not earn. When a university or college confers a degree upon a student who has not mastered critical thinking skills, writing and problem-solving, it’s academic dishonesty.  .  .  .

Academic dishonesty and deception go beyond fraudulent grades. “Minding the Campus” is a newsletter published by the Manhattan Institute. Edward Fiske tells a chilling tale of deception titled “Gaming the College Rankings” (9/17/09). The U.S. News and World Report college rankings are worshiped by some college administrators, and they go to great lengths to strengthen their rankings. Some years ago, University of Miami omitted scores of athletes and special admission students so as to boost SAT scores of incoming freshmen. At least one college mailed dollar bills to alumni with a request that they send them back to the annual fund thereby inflating the number of alumni donors.

[Other examples were included here]

Academic dishonesty, coupled with incompetency, particularly at the undergraduate level, doesn’t bode well for the future of our nation. And who’s to blame? Most of the blame lies at the feet of the boards of trustees, who bear ultimate responsibility for the management of our colleges and universities.


3 Responses to “The State of Higher Education in America — Ugh!”

  1. Joseph Edward Wages September 20, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    This phenomenon might be ascribed to a couple of things. The First might the dumb-ing down of anything competitive. Everyone must receive a prize. It starts in kindergarten and I believe continues through higher ed.

    The other is the somewhat related governmental effort to give everyone a college education. An education that might saddle them with a student loan they can’t possibly repay with a lifetime of earnings at the salary their education merits. And with the side-effect of putting the institutions in competition to get those readily available funds at the expense of their main objective, that of meaningful and useful education.

    • illero September 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

      Thanks for commenting. This reminds me, though, of another dishonest practice of colleges and universities. Most of the big name C&Us already know how many freshmen they can accept for the next couple of years. But what they do is encourage, even market to, students with all kinds of high school records in order to 1) maximize the number of applicants, in an effort to 2) generate a low acceptance RATE, thus appearing to be extremely selective – and thus scoring higher in the C&U rankings.

      What a racket!

      • Joseph Edward Wages September 20, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

        And further, no matter how much we wish it, everyone is not college material. I’m afraid the some C&U dumb it down to keep the money coming in. Evidence surfaces from time to time that this is done to keep athletes enrolled.

        Strangely, when I was a student I do believe that many schools, with limited funding, did just the opposite and strove to weed out the chaff to make their numbers more manageable. I don’t know how I escaped.

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