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Why do Some Community College Students Fail?


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The Problem

In a world of glass half empty and glass half full people, I have a tendency to lean toward the former. On average, the majority of people who take my classes each year manage to get at least a passing grade. In spite of this apparent fact, I spend most of my time thinking about the ones who do not make it. Teaching is a profession in which it is very easy to beat yourself up because you are so consistently exposed to failure. I can predict, after all, with some certainty, that roughly a quarter to a third of the students who begin a class won’t be around to take the final. So does this mean that I get a “C-“ for my student success grade? If it does, then there are a lot of “C-“ community college teachers out there. Most of the students and teachers that I have talked to over the years, after all, have said that their classes have a similar dropout rate. So I cannot simply revert to my natural tendency to blame myself. Maybe something bigger is going on here.

I think that most of the students who drop or fail can be placed into a few categories. I will start, therefore, with the students who irritate me the most and then proceed through other categories in descending order of annoyance.



Every semester, there are a few students (sometimes more) who should have never signed up for my class in the first place. And when I say this, I do not mean to insult their intelligence or give them that famous label, “not college material.” In fact, I have no idea how intelligent they might be because they don’t do a (damn) thing! Actually, I take that back; they do show up to class on occasion and may even get there on time and stay until the end. Beyond that, they are just a body taking up space.

Now I can understand and even respect someone who does not want to take a college history class or a college course of any kind. What I cannot comprehend is why students would spend their money - or their parents’ money, or maybe the state’s money - and their time - however limited that investment may be - taking a class that they make no effort to pass. Are they going to college because mom and dad said so? Did they go to college under the assumption that it is the next thing that you do? (It’s 13th grade!) Are they talented athletes who view college as a minor league sports organization? There may be a wide variety of explanations, none of which make a lot of sense to me.

What concern me are the implications of these flaky students’ existence. The frightening thought that I am continually forced to confront is simple: most of these people apparently graduated from high school. And if this is true, you have to wonder seriously about the academic standards of some of the schools that produced these scholars. I have gotten to a point where I can often pick out the people who will not be around for long on the first day of class. I think that it is mostly a body language kind of a thing. I see them and I immediately think, “this person is still in high school mode.” Because in high school, or at least in certain high schools, all you apparently have to do is show up to a room for a certain amount of time in order to pass. After all, they have to make room for the next crop of kids.

Students Who Disappear

Closely related to the people in “high school mode” are the “mystery students.” These are people who start off a class doing fairly well – sometimes very well - and then mysteriously disappear one day to never return. They never contact me to let me know that there is any problem. In many cases, they never bother to drop the class. Either they do not mind getting an “F,” or they just assume that I will eventually drop them. In the first community college class that I ever taught, I gave out a large number of “F’s” because I had no idea that I was supposed to drop students when it was clear that they were never coming back. As a student, I would never have even considered quitting a class one day without bothering to drop. To this day, I still have the classic student nightmare in which you have a class, or at least you think that you do, and for some reason you never show up, and you are not sure if there is a final, which of course you may need to take some day. There are apparently thousands of community college students living this nightmare every semester; although I am not sure if it is causing them any stress. Now I have to assume that in most or even all of the “mystery student” cases the individuals have some kind of an excuse for why they quit. I just wish that they had contacted me at some point to see if something could be done to help get them through.


Excuses Bad and Good

Sometimes people do contact me before bailing out, which brings me to the third category: the “excuse makers.” Now that label sounds a bit derogatory, but it is actually not intended to be. In many cases, people have perfectly reasonable explanations for why they cannot complete a class. However, in order to maintain my pattern of going from most irritating to least, I will start with some of the lame excuses. First, I have had students who apparently dropped a class because their significant other or friend was not doing well and decided to drop. So, out of apparent “loyalty,” he or she decided to drop as well. (In cases involving a significant other, I will let you figure out which gender tended to be the one not doing well. To give you a hint, it is the gender that is generally hairier and stronger.) I had a student once who started laughing hysterically in class, causing me to ask her to leave. She never returned, apparently out of embarrassment. Some drop because they “only” get an 88 on the first test and they are afraid that they may be out of range for an “A.” Some students will find themselves in jail during the course of the semester, which on one level is a valid excuse, but in the end, still fits into my “lame” category.

The majority of reasons that people give, however, for not being able to complete a class are actually more understandable. Sometimes work schedules change, and people can no longer attend class. Since community college students are often paying their way through school and struggling just to get by, it is hard for me to tell them to give up their livelihood in order to stay in my class. Often, family problems or tragedies occur, health problems make it very difficult to continue, or in some cases, students in the military have been shipped overseas.

And it is here that this hub crosses a line moving away from “irritating” to “frustrating.” When dealing with students who face unforeseen circumstances, I experience what may be the most common emotion that I have as a teacher: a sense of helplessness. Teaching is an inherently cooperative exercise, and even if I do everything perfectly, students will only succeed if they are willing and able to put in the necessary effort. Unfortunately, there are going to be students every semester who have the will to succeed, but at this particular point in their lives, they do not have the ability because some obstacle stands in the way. Does this make them a failure? Does this make me a failure?

On one level, I think that community colleges are overly tolerant of failure, and students in community colleges may be given too many opportunities to make up for past bad grades or withdrawals from classes. This excessive lenience can often encourage irresponsibility, and it can also lead people to start a class and then quit in order to have a better shot at an “A” during a planned future attempt(s) in the class. But on the other hand, there are people who face some bad breaks, and for them, an “F” should not stand for failure.


The Academically Ill-Prepared

That sense of helplessness, however, is the most profound for my final category of students who do not make it. These are the students who work hard but simply do not have the mental or academic skills to pass a college level history class. And once again, these students make me wonder about what is happening in both our primary and secondary education systems. How are people graduating from high school who in my mind have not mastered the basic skills necessary to get through a junior high class, much less a college level class? Sometimes, I feel like I am being asked to teach college level history to people who are sixth graders academically. I try to work on study skills during the course of the semester, but I do not have the time nor the training to help people acquire skills that should have been developed over the course of several years. Like the people I discussed earlier who are in “high school mode,” these students who lack basic skills are seemingly doomed from the start.

Now to be fair to both primary and secondary schools, I know from past experience how difficult their jobs are. They are often working with large numbers of students at a time with a wide range of learning styles and ability levels, with many students having various learning disabilities and behavioral problems. They are often working with students who get little or no intellectual stimulation at home and have parents who take little interest in their children’s education, and in some cases, they have no interest in their children period. I am in awe of anyone who can effectively work in this environment, and I think that their focus, especially in the primary grades, on teaching skills as opposed to academic information makes their job especially difficult.

Still, there is something wrong when a high school graduate cannot write a coherent sentence, take notes, or utilize any type of study strategy when preparing for a test. I do not have an answer to this problem. I just have the problem. And at the college level, where taking classes is no longer mandatory and where students are no longer passed just to make room for the next grade, students who lack basic skills or academic discipline have a problem. If an academic degree is going to continue to mean something, students must be held accountable at some point in the process. In the past, when a high school degree was roughly equivalent to what a college degree means today, students may have been held to a higher standard. Now that college has become virtually mandatory for people who want to get a decent job, this is the level where students are finally held accountable. College is the new high school. Maybe colleges will someday start lowering standards in order to make sure that people pass. After all, if a college degree is so essential, it would be inhumane to flunk people and curse them to a life of lousy jobs or unemployment. If this occurs, maybe the Master’s Degree will replace what the Bachelor’s Degree means today. Who knows, maybe they will make the Bachelor’s Degree mandatory some day, and everyone will get to go to school until they are 22 (or longer). Then, if you want a good job, you will have to go and get that Master’s!


In all the categories that I have listed, student success is somewhat out of the teacher’s hands. I cannot control how hard a student will work, the circumstances they might face outside of the classroom, or the academic skills they will have when the class begins. This cannot, however, lead to a defeatist attitude. I need to start every class under the assumption that all students can succeed, and as I said at the beginning of this hub, many of them do. But even those students that end up with grades lower than a “C,” or even those that dropped the class, might have succeeded on some level. Maybe these students learned a few things that they did not know or developed some skills that they did not have. Maybe they learned what it means to be held accountable, and the next time they will try harder. Evaluating progress purely on the basis of grades is a bit too simplistic.

The biggest determinant of success for me, in fact, is progress. If everyone gets an “A” on the first test – which never happens by the way – that would probably be a sign that my test was a little easy, and a test that is too easy, in my mind, is an impediment to actual success. But if people get knocked on their ass a bit by that first test, I will get their attention for the rest of the semester. Often the most gratifying moments for me as a teacher are when I look back at the grade sheet at the end of a semester and see that more people have improved over the course of a class than have gotten worse. This indicates to me that students have increased their interaction with the material, which is the whole point of the class in the first place.

In the end, all you can do is try, and the overwhelming majority of students, if they are paying attention at all, will know when you are trying. They also know when someone is just going through the motions. There are a lot of things that can probably be done to improve our education system as a whole, but in the end, a teacher who cares can do two basic things. First, you must create an environment in which students have an opportunity to do well, both because the material is presented effectively and the requirements are reasonable. And second, a teacher must be a role model demonstrating how a person can try and make sense out of all this material and can enjoy it at the same time. A lot of the rest of it is out of your hands.

Books for Community College Students and Teachers


Paul Swendson (author) on May 23, 2012:

Feel free to link to any of my hubs.

I don't typically say, "It's out of my hands" either. I try to operate under the assumption that everyone can succeed. Of course, I also recognize a significant factor in students' success is the effort that they put out. And as every educator knows, I cannot completely control student behavior. To stay sane, we must all keep in mind that many things are out of our hands.

FreezeFrame34 from Charleston SC on May 23, 2012:

I agree that this is a HUGE problem.

I co-teach "College Prep" classes in a public high school. I, too, have seen some ill-equipped, distracted, resentful, lackadaisical students who cut class, cheat, lie, slack, and blame others; the only difference is....if I say "It's out of my hands," then I'll lose my job :(

I am glad I found this hub; although, I wish I would have read it before I finished my hub on NCLB!

I'm sharing and following you! Do you care if I link to this hub in mine?

Alex on March 01, 2012:

I need the thing that make studen fail in the the first year in university

Paul Swendson (author) on February 12, 2012:

You might like my Hubs "Types of Bad Teachers" and "Does School Work (Or is it a flawed concept?)" But anyway . . .

As you have clearly noticed, college courses, particularly general ed survey classes like I teach, tend to gravitate toward the lowest common denominator. I would love to dive into topics in more depth, but when you have large numbers of students with almost no knowledge or interest in the subject, that can be a challenge. So I try to create a course in which a decent percentage of students will have a chance of passing. It ends up being a course in basic historical literacy, and my hope is that students who want more will get it when they take upper division classes.

Every semester, however, there are a few students who clearly have a passion for the subject or for learning in general. My best conversations with them, however, happen outside of the class setting.

But even with the limitations I face, I try to go beyond presentation and regurgitation of facts. If you read my history hubs, you will see that I try to make the information relevant to the modern world and raise important questions that have no definitive answers.

College, unfortunately, does involve a lot of jumping through hoops, putting up with bad teachers, and tolerating the bureaucracy. The same can be said, I guess, for life in general. I was a student for a long time too, and I had to put up with the same crap that you describe. Sometimes, you just have to play the game the way the rules are set up, whether they make sense or not. And every now and then, you run into a teacher or a course that is really worthwhile. Hopefully, I am able to teach courses that are at least tolerable for students like you who want more than just the three units.

Good luck with whatever path you take.

colourmetwice on February 11, 2012:

Why is it always looking down on the students? I was the perfect student and I ended up hating it. I didn't actually feel intelligent and intellectually stimulated at all. I wanted so much more.

I am 27 trying to finish my degree after taking a hiatus, spending time in the Navy, going to Massage Therapy School...dear god, college is even harder to get back into now, not easier! I HAVE life experience, I HAVE a real solid baseline, and then some because I'm a total nerd on my own time, so when you tell me I still have to take English 101 because its a requirement of the college, no matter that I have been working as a journalist at both a daily and weekly paper for quite some time now...yeah, you are darn tootin I'm gonna have a heck of a time sitting through that class. I can test out of German and Math, but you won't let me test out of something I do for a living. You have got to be kidding me. Then, I have to take classes with a bunch of 18 year olds who only try to get the easiest A possible and drag down the possibility of a wonderful and true stimulating conversation.

I promise I'm not actually that bad of a person, but as you can see I'm terribly frustrated right now. Its not the material that is hard, its the presentation, the requirements, and the company.

A good friend of mine, the only person who actually took time to nourish my curiosity (he was a professor himself for a few years before realizing academia wasn't his style) once said to me on my struggles with going back, "I see going to college like getting married. Some of us have to do it while we're too young to know any better. That's the only way of getting through. After that you see through all the b.s. and you're not willing to put up with it. Especially college where you pay them to feed it to you."

And then he told me, "Maybe college isn't your thing. Just because you're smart doesn't mean that's where you belong. Especially if no one ever helps you. You are fighting and failing at this continuously for what? You are chasing some dreamland of intellectual conversation that maybe just isn't in the world anymore. I'm not telling you to quit. I'm just saying, make a choice. If you're going to go to college, then go, full force, and just eat the b.s. But if you're going to walk away, then walk away without stressing about it and capture that path just as much. Both are okay. You just have to give yourself permission either way."

There's so much attention on the actual crappy students, what about the other side? In Psychology, we spend an inordinate amount of time on all the "bad" disorders and psychosis and emotions. Do you realize how little we know about happiness? Just..happiness. Not to mention extreme happiness (read: Exuberance, The Passion for Life). When passion is left unmet and unpursued, it becomes this bitterness and listfulness and behaviors that look very much like the students who never cared to begin with. But that was never the case. We care TOO MUCH! And you...you handed us yet another worksheet. Cool as you are, that's just not gonna cut it.

We need an outlet.

colourmetwice on February 11, 2012:

We, at first, are there and ready to eat up your every word. Then instead, the classroom full of close-minded pricks (the ones there for a piece of paper, not a "real" education) opens their mouths and over shadows any real depth of conversation. Or, everyone gets and "A" on the first test which is remarkably easy and not worth my time. Or, you endlessly read straight off of your power point slides and teach me nothing outside of the book I have in front of me.

Some of us have all the right brains, all the right excitement, and the right willingness to learn that most of your teachers claim to cherish. But when we are underchallenged, undervalued, and just generally looked over, *especially* if we keep trying to reach out and explain these difficulties...well, passion fizzles, exuberances fades. And yeah, eventually we just drift away. We don't drop because its too painful to admit defeat, and because part of us is hoping that at least one teacher has noticed and really wants to takes us under their wing and help us soar.

I myself am already drifting...3 semesters of straight A's until I couldn't stand regurgitating anymore. I wanted you to see me, I wanted to speak and be heard, I wanted to DO something with all of this wonderful information you have so eloquently placed in my lap. Stop telling me to write yet another term paper, yet another essay. Instead, help me map out my ideas and actually get published and make a real impact on the world.

Some of us just don't know how to express how intensely we WANT to be the great student for you, how obviously we CAN be, we just need more! Sometimes, it feels like we *have* reached out and trued to give you hints, tried to connect and build rapport and slowly share this dream with you...but if you are too busy, if you aren't quite listening close enough, you'll miss it. And we'll be gone. And when we are, you won't even slip a concerned e-mail our way, reaching out, like we've tried to do to you.

For some of us, it will never be about the grade. It will be only about the opportunity to attain something real in life. I was told college would help me reach the stars, so why do most of my classes never let me leave earth?

Deanna992 from Denver, Colorado on December 22, 2011:

This is such a great hub! Thank you.

I can tell just from reading this that you're an amazing teacher. I've had too many teachers that don't care, halfheartedly try to teach, or just give up on "difficult students." Some even pride themselves on how hard their class is. They brag about how many students they've failed! I would think that a teacher's job is to try to make us improve like you do rather than shove in our face how much dumber we are than him (him and the few students that somehow just get it without anything "extra").

I learn differently than other students and I can't tell you how many times a teacher has just given up on me. I worked hard and got good grades (mostly because I taught myself), but it seemed like when I didn't already know the material or when I had trouble making a concept make sense, the teacher would run through 1 or 2 of his/her tried-and-true methods and give up when he/she ran out of ideas. That's left me pretty bitter towards teachers, so now that I'm out of high school I'm teaching myself how to be a professional web designer. I feel like I could do a better job than the teachers.

But then I find a teacher here and there that's like you and I feel like you should be awarded or something (but when I really think about it I realize you should be the standard instead of the exception, but that's just me).

Not to get preachy or anything, but you really need to stop beating yourself up. I worry that you'll let it affect you too much and slowly melt into one of the depressed, frustrating, goes-through-the-motions, doesn't-care-if-the-student-succeeds-or-not kind of teacher. The teacher that gives up is the failure; the teacher that works to improve the students that want to be improved is not. You don't give up on your students. If there is a student there that you can't do anything to help, that is not your fault. Learning is a both-ways sort of thing. The student shows up, the teacher teaches, the student tries to learn and asks for help if needed, the teacher does everything he/she can to help, the student improves, the teacher acknowledges the improvement. If someone has some reason for not being able to succeed in the class and there's nothing you can do about it, that's not your fault.

Fryysauce on April 05, 2011:

I wish there were more students like me. Not trying to sound arrogant here, but lazy students who don't care about their education make me crazy. I personally pay for my time in college and I feel like it gets wasted hen I have to spend my time with people who are just in college because they are "supposed to be." I would rather them all leave and let the people who want to learn be there.

Paul Swendson (author) on April 05, 2011:

I wish that I had more students like you.

Fryysauce on April 04, 2011:

As a current community college student, I loved this hub. I work very hard to have a 4.0, and to be honest, it hasn't been easy. But I have seen every type of student that you mentioned. It's interesting to hear about them from a teacher's perspective, since I usually just think to myself about them. Thumbs up FF

Oh, and I totally dig Andy's comments.

marketingskeptic from San Diego, CA on March 07, 2011:

"The frightening thought that I am continually forced to confront is simple: most of these people apparently graduated from high school. And if this is true, you have to wonder seriously about the academic standards of some of the schools that produced these scholars"

I totally agree. It's a bit judgmental, but some of the people I've met during my first couple of months at UCSD were undoubtedly "academically challenged." Even though they graduated at the top of their class in HS, they were from one of these slacker HS that had little to no academic standards. Suffice to say, most of them are barely managing to keep themselves afloat and not drop out. It's unfortunate that not all high schools are made equal since these students never had an equal chance from the start.

Andy the Great on February 19, 2011:

Definitely. In my more adult years (I'm still only 25, so take that saying with a grain of salt), I've come to have a better appreciation for professors. They usually don't have a grasp of exactly what high school is cranking out. When I left high school, I would have said I had a pretty good high school. Now, having been out in the world awhile and 2 runs at college, I can officially say that it didn't prepare me at all. My first time around, I sat in a car with the key turned to ACC for hours on end, and then didn't understand why it would just click when I tried to start the engine. I didn't put 2 and 2 together that the car's electricity runs on a battery. I had no idea what an alternator was. That sort of information would be useful in high school. I know parenting comes into play, but we don't all have the same parents.

I now look at college as a gauntlet, which I truly believe it is supposed to be. "Learn this, or leave". I wouldn't want someone that was a product of the "no child left behind" philosophy designing my car's electrical system or teaching middle school students about history (sorry, I don't know the practical application of history 8^D and that's not a knock).

Knowing a college level passable amount of history is important. It's a list of Aesop's Fables to draw from in present day. Not knowing it and still receiving a degree that says you do doesn't help anyone. That said, the goal is to gain knowledge, not to fail students, so don't take it to the opposite's extreme.

I don't know how jammed packed your average semester is, but if you teach a freshman level class, it might be worthwhile to share some of your thoughts with them on the day you go over the syllabus. Also mentioning where they can go if they need to drop the class might save a few people some hardship later (or simply telling them that it's available and to see you if they feel they might need to so you can intervene).

Something that might really help history is to explain the context of a new subject before you delve into it. If you're coming up on the American Revolution, a brief little "last time on History Class..." sort of thing that recaps the Seven Years War and the populations discontent with the new taxes imposed to pay for it. You probably breath history. Your students probably forget all of it between Monday and Wednesday. Recapping the setting with a short prologue would probably help each and ever class period and help them solidify the last lecture's material.

I'm wordy. Sorry.

The fact that you wrote this hub would be enough for me to look for your section when signing up for classes. Your on the right track. I wouldn't be discouraged because of the "non-ideal" student types you listed above.

Paul Swendson (author) on February 19, 2011:

Andy, that's one of the best comments that I have ever read. Thank you for reinforcing some of my suspicions, and by giving me encouragement to keep on going.

Andy the Great on February 19, 2011:

"What I cannot comprehend is why students would spend their money - or their parents’ money, or maybe the state’s money - and their time - however limited that investment may be - taking a class that they make no effort to pass."

While this wasn't a community college, I received a freshman scholarship to an offshoot of UT based on my junior year of high school. My senior year I went from having an average of around 94 all the way down to a 73 in 1 year. College was expected of me, and I had no ambitions of my own, so I went to avoid trouble with my parents. I did not crack a single book the entire first year, and made anywhere from a B to an F on prior knowledge and common sense/natural intelligence. By the second year, common sense wouldn't cut it anymore and I dropped out in my 5th semester. I was only about 5k in debt (since the scholarship covered my first year). I didn't have a concept of what $5k in debt meant at the time. I'm now into my 4th (officially 9th) semester at age 25 having re-enrolled for myself and making A/B honor roll in electrical engineering.

"In many cases, they never bother to drop the class. Either they do not mind getting an “F,” or they just assume that I will eventually drop them."

Nobody explained dropping classes to me. I'm not sure it would have really mattered. I had heard the term, but didn't know how to do it and wasn't willing to put forth the effort. I sure wish I had. Returning to college I'm now a full 4 semesters back into it and still technically on academic probation. My GPA upon leaving was a 1.2. I've pulled it up to a 1.87 with all As and Bs in some tough classes (calculus based sciences and upper level math). That's taken me 2 years. If I'm not above 2.0 by the end of next year, I wont qualify to advance to the professional program. I'm not too worried, but enough about me.

"But even those students that end up with grades lower than a “C,” or even those that dropped the class, might have succeeded on some level. Maybe these students learned a few things that they did not know or developed some skills that they did not have. Maybe they learned what it means to be held accountable, and the next time they will try harder. Evaluating progress purely on the basis of grades is a bit too simplistic."

BINGO! At 18 I wasn't ready for college. Everything you said about the school systems across this country was certainly true in my case. Even though I sincerely bombed college in the first 2 and a half years I went, I did come away more knowledgable and intellectually curious. I tabled that curiosity for a time from around 20-25 as I learned on my own. Now that I've matured a bit, and now that I'm doing this for myself, I have a genuine feeling that I can go the distance and complete my degree. I've even begun discussing with my degree counseler about the master's programs offered.

Other than the excuse maker, I fit your stereotypes very well as my 18-20 year old self. With PBS, NPR, and the internet, my desire to learn was resparked, and I know the limitations of my natural intelligence.

My parting words as a relatively unbiased student to a professor I most likely will never meet: I find that the classes I appreciate the most are the ones with challenging homework that doesn't account for a large percentage of my overall grade, but does a great job of preparing me for a more normal exam. Give your students the hard ones on the homework. Then back off the difficulty level a little bit for the exam. I'm exposed to the hard stuff from the homework, and carry the normal stuff with me to the next level of the class. I'll be honest. I probably couldn't take the integral of every single equation out there, but I probably could of around 90% of them by having to grapple with the other 10%.

A lot of learning happens for me during the test. I find that during the first lecture on a new subject, I learn virtually nothing. I'm too busy trying to write everything down off the board. The second time I'm exposed to it is during homework assignments that require I at least grasp the concept to reach a reasonable answer (this is where I pray I wrote enough down in lecture to figure things out). The third time MUST BE during a review for the exam. I sincerely appreciate when a professor is able to take at LEAST one full lecture session to review material that will be on the test. Often, there isn't enough time even in a full lecture to really get it all in, and even 2 full lecture sessions would prove valuable, both for your student and for your personal success level as a professor. There I begin to solidify the material. Finally the exam allows me to boost my ego by doing it myself. I just recently received an exam back in a math class. I left the exam completely disheartened thinking I'd botched it big time. I felt like I'd missed at least half of it. I got the score back and made an 88. It turns out that I knew 88% of it. It was the other 12% that crushed me during the test. So like I mentioned, I may not leave the class with the same mastery as a professor, but I do retain enough to call it a successful venture. That crushed feeling was replaced with pure joy upon receiving my 88, and almost a bitterness that I'd missed such an easy 12 points upon reviewing the answers.

Not all of that may apply to history. I haven't had a history class in 6 years. Lecture is the detailed picture of a subject. I feel that a test should be the bullet points. The bullet points remind you of the lecture's detail. Is it important to remember the name of a general's horse? Not really, but by telling me his name, I remember the general. Is it important to America's history that Paul Revere was a silversmith? I'd argue not, but it helps me remember Paul Revere.

The classes I learn the most in usually have a drop rate of around 50%. All it means is I get a better seat as the semester progresses (and a shorter walk from the parking lot). The tendency is to hold hands. College isn't there to hold anyone's hand. It's there to give you a kick in the right direction. Some people fall down from the kick. Others are 2 feet closer to the finish line.

Sorry for the lengthy comment. I just wanted to let you know that even if you continue to have mystery students and slackers, sometimes those slackers and mystery students end up designing your new TV in 10 years. The seed is planted, even if it doesn't bear fruit this time around.

....and to this day I'd still disappear if the class was at 8 AM. ;D

Lou on February 16, 2011:

Nice read. You nailed that college is now the equivalent of high school, but you seem to think this development is causing high schools to pump out worse graduates. I believe that high schools aren't performing much worse than they have in the past, although, some schools are worse than others.

The fact that one requires a college degree to obtain decent employment simply causes those unfit for college to enroll. The devaluing of a high school education, or rather the inflating of the value of college, is what is causing so many poor students to attend.

Additionally, history is a required subject. It is very common for students to care less about the courses that don't apply to their major. They say, "Well rounded education." I say, "Waste of my time and yours."

Also, you take too much responsibility on yourself. Not all students benefit from the same style of teaching, just as all teachers have their own style that works best for them. This mis-match is no one's fault, though it is unfortunate.

Paul Swendson (author) on February 10, 2011:

Yes, college cannot simply be 13th grade. I have found over the years that the older students are often much better. After having some work and life experience, they are often more motivated than the 18-year-olds.

I would have thought that Texas would be much better educationally after George Bush's 1990's education reforms. Maybe he was not the genius that I thought. Go figure.

Old Empresario on February 10, 2011:

Ah yes; the insidious and recurring "I'm late and have a final exam" nightmare; from which I still suffer occasionally. It must be linked to some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. You sound like a great professor and you certainly dug up the uncomfortable facts. It is almost as if college was never intended to be the entitlement that it has been made out to be. It is almost as if so many of them need to wait a few more years to gain some intellectual interest; or at least work a while before attending college. I wish I knew the answer. In Texas we have these things called "high schools", which are merely 4-year training facilities for future college athletes. Meanwhile the girls all learn how to wear makeup and attract boys. After graduating from these vocational institutions (TX has the lowest rate out of 50 states), most TX high school grads don't complete college. Thanks for writing such a great hub.

Paul Swendson (author) on November 26, 2010:

I'm not just talking about plagiarism. There are some services out there that will produce original papers for a fee. Also, plagiarism can be tricky to define. At what point does paraphrasing cross the line into plagiarism?

It also depends on the type of test. If it is a multiple choice exam in which students are asked nitpicky details, then it is not of much value as a real learning tool. Essay exams that require higher level thinking skills, and multiple choice tests that focus on major topics rather than trivia, can be of more value.

I think we agree that school is an inherently flawed institution. Personally, I wish that grading did not exist at all. Unfortunately, there needs to be some criteria to determine if a person has actually learned anything, along with an incentive for students to work. In a perfect world, lesson plans would be adapted to a student's individual needs, and the student would be highly motivated to learn. Of course, we don't live in that world. You might like this other hub better:


DonDWest from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on November 26, 2010:

Sorry, I have to kindly disagree (I have an intuitive feeling we’re going to be speaking in circles very soon). This is 2010, it's easier to manipulate/cheat a test than a project. You should specify what you mean by cheating. If you're worried over plagiarism, there exists methods to easily detect such a crime. Ironically enough, the best way to detect plagiarism is to use the same online tools that students use to plagiarise. Takes no more than two minutes per student. Utilizing the Google Cache feature would detect most plagiarism.

"Still, in a world filled with students who often have little interest in learning and will do whatever it takes to get the grade, tests are still the best of the various flawed options."

Or tests can be the best way to hand a free pass to such students. I would go on to say 75% of college graduates have mastered the art of taking the exam. They spend little, if any time, actually understanding the material. At least with a project they have to work. Even spending time to plagiarize the material to a passable level would require a greater amount of work and effort. So much so, that they may accidentally learn the work they’re plagiarising.

Paul Swendson (author) on November 25, 2010:

To be honest, I don't like the exam system very much either, and the main reason that I base a significant part of the grade on them has little to do with education. Unfortunately, if entire grades are based on take home projects, a significant percentage of students will essentially cheat. A test is the only way that I can know that the student is the person doing the work. I try to incorporate activities in their grade other than tests because I know that a lot of people are not good test takers for whatever reason. Still, in a world filled with students who often have little interest in learning and will do whatever it takes to get the grade, tests are still the best of the various flawed options.

DonDWest from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on November 25, 2010:

Or maybe the students who fail work very hard, but they have a major weakness in the one skill required for academic success: working memory. So they fail college and life shuts the door, completely overlooking positive attributes they may have to offer. "Real life" isn't mastering a multiple choice exam, it's often project based. As someone who failed college three times going into exams as an A+ student every time (because I work hard on the projects), I find it rather trivial how professors/teachers can rationalize their system and the life card it's dealt me. I've done well in the working world until I hit an early glass ceiling, denied because I didn't have a college degree. Should I give it a 4th try? There comes a point when one has to know when to quit...

As for "maybe it will be different this time" or "maybe you haven't learned the proper study skills." Rarely is it different, the obstacle that caused you to fail, especially when it's biological, doesn't disappear because I'm dangerously approaching my 30th birthday. As for study skills, the morbid expression "there are only so many ways to skin a cat" comes to mind. What this expression means is often in simple to medium level tasks, there are only so many ways to perform such duties. At the end of the day, studying for exams is reading material, taking it in, and spiting it out the way the professor/teacher wants it. There is only so much creativity that can be used in such a task. It's rote memorization for goodness sake.

Paul Swendson (author) on November 08, 2010:

Thanks wingedcentaur for your always encouraging comments. Yes, many of these students get a serious reality check after taking their first college test, at least in my classes. Unfortunately, I have heard that many community college teachers keep things easy in order to avoid flunking too many people. But then again, I have also heard of some who are incredibly hard. It's hard to find the right balance when dealing with so much student variety.

William Thomas from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things! on November 08, 2010:

This hub is brilliant, FF! I am really enjoying these excursions with you on the path you walk as a teacher, a community college instructor.

Like you my sympathies particularly go out to those students who are just not academically prepared for college, through no fault of their own actually. The high school they came from simply wasn't that demanding. You often encounter such students who may have made all "As" or "As and Bs" through out middle school and high school, and yet find that they are woefully unprepared for college.

This revelation must be demoralizing for them to say the least! No easy answers. But my sense of you, FF, is that you're a pretty good teacher and I would have liked to have been taught by you. Anyway, another great hub.

Keep up the good work!


Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on November 08, 2010:

Thanks for that I have a better idea of what they are like now.

Paul Swendson (author) on November 07, 2010:

Thank you Wildiris. When you are new to this like me, it's hard to let people know that you exist.

Christopher, a community college offers Associate Degrees. Some are vocational programs that prepare people to enter the job market in certain fields immediately upon completion. In other fields, students complete lower division coursework with the goal of transferring to a university that offers Bachelor's Degrees or other higher degrees. Community Colleges are generally much cheaper than Universities, and they are "open schools," meaning that they do not have strict admission requirements in terms of grades or standardized test scores. This is why I get so many people who are not well prepared for college. Virtually anyone can get in. They also offer lots of classes that adults can take purely for self-enrichment. This may be partly where the term "community" comes from.

WildIris on November 07, 2010:

I am going to share this Hub in hopes that it reaches a larger audience.

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on November 07, 2010:

Although I am not a teacher, or a student, I can sympathise with the difficulties, you must encounter every day. I expect in your job, as in everyone else's, all you can do is try to do your best. Since I am unfamiliar with the american educational system I need to ask you, what is a community college? Is it some type of local university? I am just wondering what the equivalent might be here in The United Kingdom.