Universities Then and Now: Letter to a Bright Young Woman

Universities Then and Now: Letter to a Bright Young Woman, by Fred Reed.

Long ago, before 1965 say, college was understood to be for the intelligent and academically prepared among the young, who would one day both provide leadership for the country and set the tone of society. Perhaps ten percent, but no more than twenty percent, of high-school graduates were thought to have any business on a campus. It was elitist and deliberately so. …

Incoming freshmen were assumed to read with fluency and to know algebra cold. They did, because applicants were screened for these abilities by the SATs. These tests, not yet dumbed down, then measured a student’s ability to handle complex ideas expressed in complex literate English, this being what college students then did.

There were no remedial courses. If you needed them, you belonged somewhere else. The goal of college was learning, not social uplift. ….

Everything changed from the late ’60’s on.

The first and worst change was the philosophy that everybody, or much closer to everybody, should go to college. Disaster followed. There descended on the schools huge numbers of adolescents without the brains, preparation, or interest needed for college. They had little notion of what college was for. The very idea of cultivation seemed undemocratic to them, as of course it was. They set out to avoid it. And did.

Since they were not ready, and for the most part could not be made ready, colleges dumbed down courses. Remedial classes proliferated. These worked poorly.  When a graduate of high school can barely read, there is usually an underlying reason why he will never be able to read. …

What the students didn’t want was an education…. They wanted courses that were easy and fun. … They were in a USP—a university-shaped place—that had the form of schooling, such as numbered courses with solemn-sounding titles, credit hours, and buildings with blackboards. They  thought they were in college. They weren’t really, but didn’t really want to be. …

College, once a passage into adulthood, became a way of avoiding it. Immaturity and narcissism flourished well into the students’ twenties….

Oversupply of graduates raised its ugly head. When degrees had been scare, and went to the intelligent, they carried advantage. When everyone had a college degree, they didn’t. The number of jobs actually requiring an education was far smaller than the number of young who had diplomas, though not educations. Soon there were countless college-educated taxi-drivers, parking-lot attendants, and servers of over-priced coffee at Starbucks.

Potentially far worse … employers noticed the falling capacities of graduates.