Once you start worrying about a national football championship, then you begin to worry about getting the quality of athlete, and the numbers needed, to win a national championship. And that worry leads to pressure to compromise academic standards to admit those athletes.
The most obvious purpose of college education is to help students acquire information and knowledge by acquainting them with facts, theories, generalizations, principles, and the like. This purpose scarcely requires justification.
In 1968, the situation at Harvard was not one of which we can be proud. In that year, the proportion of minority persons in salary and wage positions was approximately 3 per cent. Virtually no minority workers were employed on Harvard construction projects.
I don't regard the fact that there's a disparity in test scores nearly as importantly as I do the need for diversity, because I know from long experience that test scores, though useful, are a very limited measure of things that matter in choosing students.
Teaching methods are often inadequate for the goals faculties are trying to achieve. Important courses such as expository writing and foreign languages are frequently taught by untrained graduate students and underpaid adjunct teachers.
The vast majority of students probably emerge from college with an adequate grasp of no more than a single method of inquiry. Even this capacity may erode over time if it does not relate to experiences and problems that recur in the student's later life.
Efforts to develop critical thinking falter in practice because too many professors still lecture to passive audiences instead of challenging students to apply what they have learned to new questions.
Although professors regard improving critical thinking as the most important goal of college, tests reveal that seniors who began their studies with average critical thinking skills have progressed only from the 50th percentile of entering freshmen to about the 69th percentile.
The college that takes students with modest entering abilities and improves their abilities substantially contributes more than the school that takes very bright students and helps them develop only modestly.
Most high governmental officials who speak of education policy seem to conceive of education in this light - as a way to ensure economic competitiveness and continued economic growth. I strongly disagree with this approach.
I think it's very important to emphasize that there are many, many different educational institutions in what we call higher education, and they educate an enormous diversity of students. I think all of those institutions have to define particular roles for themselves; they can't do everything at once.
There are no tests similar to SATs to tell us how much undergraduates know. State legislators, who appropriate billions of dollars each year to higher education, are naturally interested in finding out what they are getting for their money.
I don't think the alternative to Yale is jail by any means. On the other hand, there is a mass of research that does show that there are real advantages to your subsequent career in going to selective institutions.
Economists who have studied the relationship between education and economic growth confirm what common sense suggests: The number of college degrees is not nearly as important as how well students develop cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving ability.
What college is all about is some kind of 4-year game about who is going to end up with the highest grades. And I don't mean to say that academic achievement isn't important. But it is, after all, a means to an end.
For some students, especially in the sciences, the knowledge gained in college may be directly relevant to graduate study. For almost all students, a liberal arts education works in subtle ways to create a web of knowledge that will illumine problems and enlighten judgment on innumerable occasions in later life.
What we are doing in educating students is trying to prepare them to live more fulfilling lives for the decades after they graduate. And trying to provide a better, richer, fairer, more decent society for the generations after.
Colleges and universities, for all the benefits they bring, accomplish far less for their students than they should. Many students graduate without being able to write well enough to satisfy their employers... reason clearly or perform competently in analyzing complex, non-technical problems.
Critics of American colleges typically attribute the failings of undergraduate education to a tendency on the part of professors to neglect their teaching to concentrate on research. In fact, the evidence does not support this thesis, except perhaps in major research universities.
Doctoral training is devoted almost entirely to learning to do research, even though most Ph.Ds who enter academic life spend far more time teaching than they do conducting experiments or writing books.
Again and again, universities have put a low priority on the very programs and initiatives that are needed most to increase productivity and competitiveness, improve the quality of government, and overcome the problems of illiteracy, miseducation, and unemployment.