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Publisher / Editor:
Paul Hayden

Dumbing Down America's Colleges

July 7, 2008

The process that began in the 1960s to transform America's elementary, middle and high schools into places where students could literally graduate without being able to read their diploma, where the teaching of mathematics was reduced to mush without rules, and where it was more important for students to feel really good about themselves than having to measure up scholastically with millions in foreign nations, has now reached the campuses of America's colleges and universities.

In a nation where it now costs thousands of dollars to fire an incompetent teacher, we have the specter of university and college presidents eliminating one of the most respected tools for measuring a prospective student's ability to qualify for admission. The venerable SAT, the gold standard for measuring readiness for college for nearly 80 years, is slowly being eviscerated by colleges and universities.

Wake Forest University, Bates, Bowdoin, and a few other small schools have recently decided to make the SAT optional for students applying for admission. Their argument for getting rid of these tests is that it will fling open the doors to "diversity" among the student body. Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch made the ludicrous claim that jettisoning the SAT would help the school, "move closer to the goals of greater educational quality and opportunity."

Such decisions are less about a selection process intended to serve the best interests of both the student and the school than about marketing intended to put bottoms in classroom seats. It seems the biggest question in college admissions offices today is whether the parents of Johnny or Jane can afford to pay tuition, even if it includes remedial courses. If the kid has a pulse, he's in.

Disparaging the SATs for helping set high academic standards ignores the fact that more than two million students take the SAT every year and that more than 88% percent of America's colleges and universities require it for admission.

Those that don't require the SAT for admission often use it for course placement and scholarship consideration. The overwhelming majority of colleges use the SAT because it has acquired a well-deserved reputation for its ability to aid the evaluation process.

It is essential to keep in mind that the SAT is a measuring device to help determine which students are best suited for a college-level education. It is rarely, if ever, the sole determining factor; good admissions officers also consider the student's high school GPA, admissions essays, honors courses, and other factors. There are several SATs; the Reasoning Test and the Subject Tests, which measure a student's knowledge in specific areas of study covering everything from physics to languages.

The requirement of SAT Subject Tests will be put to a vote of the University of California's Board of Regents during its July 15 meeting in an effort to eliminate them as a means of determining whether a student is prepared for specific coursework at a higher level.

The stated reason for eliminating the subject tests strains credulity, i.e., that not enough students know they have to take them. So, rather than improving communications with UC applicants, the system's Academic Senate is recommending the regents just do away with these tests altogether.

In reality, the vote has everything to do with Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, which pushed for a color-blind admissions process in favor of a spurious "diversity" selection system based on race and other non-academic factors. Voters in 51 of the state's 58 counties supported the measure. Does the UC Academic Senate really think it "knows better" than the vast majority of California voters? I think not.

Those who want the UC system to drop subject tests are putting forth the politically correct and totally erroneous claim that the tests are unfair to minorities, but Van Tran, a California legislator of Vietnamese heritage and UC alumnus points out that by eliminating subject tests "the UC system is proposing a move that could diminish opportunities for tens of thousands of UC applicants from minority, immigrant and disadvantaged families."

To the charge that students from minority families cannot afford to take the tests, there are procedures in place to ensure that those without the financial means to pay can take the tests for free. A good student is a good student no matter his family's financial status or where they live. The SATs are a way of measuring that and opening doors that might otherwise be closed to good students who may need financial assistance and whose education would ultimately benefit the nation.

There are suggestions in some academic circles that dropping the SATs will somehow "strengthen" high school curricula and teaching. This too is an utterly bogus notion. The entire education system across the nation is broken.

The goal of public education has morphed from educating youngsters to simply moving students-good, bad and indifferent-through government schools like so much sausage by inflating grades, turning teachers into "facilitators," expecting students to educate each other, and discouraging students who really want to learn by failing to exercise a measure of discipline in the classroom.

There isn't an employer in the nation who will not tell you how increasingly difficult it is to find a new hire, straight out of college, who is prepared to take on real world responsibilities. By removing reliable and fair means of evaluating college applicants and dumbing down America's colleges and universities, the only recourse left to many employers will be to hire foreign graduates.

The best way to prepare for college and the SAT is to work hard in high school and take a well rounded curriculum. Cheating qualified students who have taken the time and effort to prepare for this by devaluing and eliminating the SAT is just wrong. Giving their classroom seat to someone who qualifies primarily on the basis of race or other non-academic factor is just wrong.

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Copyright ©2008 Alan Caruba

Alan Caruba is an American public relations counselor and freelance writer who is a frequent critic of environmentalism, Islam and research on global warming. In the late 1970s Caruba founded the PR firm The Caruba Organization, and in 1990, the National Anxiety Center, which identifies itself as "a clearinghouse for information about 'scare campaigns' designed to influence public policy and opinion" on such subjects as global warming, ozone depletion and DDT.