Are Universities Falling Behind in Maintaining Standards?


A recent article on Slashdot.Org – Adjusting GPAs: A Statistician’s Effort To Tackle Grade Inflation, explained how a statistician struggled to implement a system that would account for grade inflation. He found many professors were grading too easily, and irregularly. The articles is good, and the research is also interesting, but after reading it I realized that something was missing- standards.

A few posts ago I wrote about a friend of mine who was subjectively graded in a university course without any standards or rubrics. I have been seeing this trend all over the internet, now that I am aware of the problem. It seems university professors, especially those with tenure, simply put a grade on a paper. They do not seem to have departmental standards or rubrics for determining what a grade is, or is not.

During my career working in international schools, both western and otherwise, there always seems to be standards. Many standards come from third-parties like the IBO and ISTE. Using external standards prevents a school from creating weak or poorly aligned standards.  Then these standards are used to create rubrics to ensure that students working on papers,projects, etc. are working toward the academic standards they need to achieve.

This logical and sound process seems to die off after a student moves-up to higher-level education. When students level-up, they are faced with an abysmal situation. They have professors who are suppose to be challenging them and engaged in their education, but who have failed to define what needs to be achieved in order to reach the next level.

Students in 2014 want to know why something is an A, B, C-, or D. They want to see how a person took their work and determined the outcomes. Maybe it is the impact of decades of gaming and having gamification rooted in many aspects of daily life. Whatever the case, students want to see the reasoning, and universities apparently have no reasoning.

The explosive growth of tuition in places like the USA is appalling for many reasons, but if institutions want to justify asking for insanely high tuition and putting most students into tremendous debt, they need to at least be able to state that they have standards. They should also be able to provide oversight into a students education using those standards, especially if there is a dispute.

Tenure should not mean being able to walk into a class, spew some theory, and stamp a red mark on someone’s paper without a reason. It should mean being able to clearly articulate to a student the reason behind an action.

I was reading some case studies around the Gladwell 10,000 hours theory. In most professions as people get older and reach what many consider a mastery level, they actually practice more. They grow beyond their teachers, and keep developing. It seems that once a person reaches tenure in an American university (or even an American school system) they can actually stop developing and stop growing. They have a choice to basically do nothing, because there are no standards in place to measure their work; and it is very difficult to release them from their service.

We cannot expect students to care about completing IB diplomas and AP credits for university when articles like the one at the top, and like this ,California Students, Parents Sue Over Teacher Firing, Tenure Rules, are very common in popular news and news feeds.

The solution to this problem is simple. High schools, especially private ones, need to do independent audits on universities and colleges. They need to check the core degrees and departments, request data, and evaluate the quality of learning.

Counseling offices worldwide need to link this information online and create a ranking system so students do not waste their money on institutions that care more about building elaborate dorms and sports stadiums than they do about training engineers, doctors, teachers, and the occasional philosopher.

Tony DePrato