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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Class sizes matter in college enrollment

    I remember the moment as vividly as I remember the night I discovered Santa Claus isn’t real.

    I marched up to Centennial Hall holding my notebooks and wearing my first-year-of-college blazer. My image of college looked something like sweater-clad pupils pouring over textbooks beneath ancient oak trees and controversial debates erupting between professors and students — the classic 1970s film “Animal House.”

    When I entered, however, this image shattered. I stepped into an auditorium filled with a thousand students. The professor stood in front of a projection screen that looked like it belonged in an IMAX movie theater, and there was no way I’d be starting any debates with my clicker.

    It was then that I realized I was not at a small, private liberal arts school in New England. I was at the UA, where the student population is larger than that of the capital city of Maryland.

    UA enrollment has surpassed 40,000 students. In earlier interviews with the Arizona Daily Wildcat, administrators touted the student population increase and growing retention rate as “good signs” that the UA is “moving in the right direction.” All this growth is supposedly due to efforts by the administration to give undergraduates “a real great experience.”

    A lecture filled with hundreds of students, in which engagement is measured by how well a person can press a button. Is not a “real great experience.” It is an educational catastrophe.

    The UA student population grew by almost 1,000 students this year. Its faculty population is estimated to have increased by only 17, according to Wendy Miley, coordinator of institutional research.
    This puts the UA’s student to faculty ratio at about 26 to 1. By contrast, the student to faculty ratio is 16 to 1 at UCLA and 19 to 1 at University of Oregon, both of which are Pac-12 schools.

    Clearly, higher enrollment does not mean more student-faculty interactions. It does not mean more research opportunities, and it does not mean a more personalized curriculum. Even so, the administration continues to strive for bigger numbers.

    This “bigger is better” attitude can be attributed to the corporatization of public universities. Students are increasingly perceived as consumers rather than citizens seeking knowledge.
    This transformation of public universities from intellectual harbors to economic harbors, with students going in and coming out like cargo ships, causes many of the ills destroying higher education today.

    Because the objective of the corporate university is to bring in and retain as many students as possible, the university strives to give students what they want rather than what they need.

    One manifestation of this is grade inflation. By 2010, “A’s” and “B’s” represented 73 percent of all grades awarded at public institutions and 86 percent of all grades awarded at private institutions, according to a 2011 analysis published in the Teachers College Record.

    And no, students aren’t brighter or more hard-working today than they were in the past. Since the 1960s, students have cut their study time in half.

    While such high grades shine like gold on a transcript, the fact that they are so easy to obtain decreases their value. This means students are forced to pursue graduate degrees in order to legitimize their education. More time in school means more money and more debt.

    Along with diminishing the value of “A’s” and “B’s”, corporatization also degrades the quality of education. Pressed to retain student populations like that of the UA, faculty seek to disseminate information not in the most thorough manner, but in the most efficient manner. This causes classes to be less in-depth and ultimately easier, meaning students learn less.

    If higher education continues down this path, academia will lose all value — intellectual, monetary or otherwise. Students should resist the corporatization of their schools, for the more corporate universities become, the more worthless degrees are.

    After all, universities are not factories. However, “more than 40,000 students” definitely means they’re getting there.

    — Savannah Martin is a junior studying journalism and political science. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @SavannahJual.

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