Monday, May 2, 2011

Odd thoughts on college

As I've mentioned, I'm a full-time college student at the moment. So if my posts are a bit disjointed or late for the next couple of weeks, I apologize. But finals come first.

I find it interesting to look at college through a frugal older person's eyes. Each of my university courses costs between $850-$1100, around $23 per hour of class time. If I value what's being taught THAT much, why would I miss a single class unless I had no choice? (And in fact, I have not missed one in the two years I've been going.) Yet there are a lot of students who miss at least half of their classes, at least if it isn't in their major. 

At the same time, I've been a bit baffled when professors have chuckled when I pointed out an error in scoring on a test and told me that my grades were so high, it didn't really matter, did it? Interestingly, the ones who've said that have been the same ones who've talked about the US as based on equality of opportunity and rewarding excellence. Grades are a kind of merit pay for students' work, and isn't telling someone their grades are high enough the same as telling someone they make enough?

As we head into finals, many of my classmates are scrambling as they realize that they've skipped or done poorly on important assignments or tests, studying frantically for the final in order to (they hope) pull up their averages by a letter grade. One professor commented this week, just after the third deadline passed to submit the single essay required for the course, "Some of you chose not to submit an essay, a controversial but valid choice. At least it pushes up the grades for the rest of the class." By the way, this professor got well-deserved applause at the end of his last lecture, to a lower-level class mostly of non-majors, the ONLY time I've seen a professor applauded spontaneously in two years.

In another class, the professor commented that some people, who'd gotten high scores on the assignments (not difficult but worth 55% of the grade) and well above the class average on the exams didn't need to do much more than show up for the final. But other people had failed to do some assignments entirely and done poorly on the exams hadn't paid attention to the fact that the final is only 15% of the grade.

I like being in the first category. I've had any number of students who vocally wondered why I studied so much and worked so hard early in the semester, even for trivial assignments. That's because I like going into finals without pressure on me, knowing that showing up for the final ensures me at least a B. And I take advantage of most extra credit opportunities even when I clearly don't need them. I described it to one amused professor as emergency savings just in case something happens.

Which goes back to my comparison between pay and grades. (I should note, btw, that I don't think grades necessarily reflect who knows the subject best, but they do reflect who was willing to do the work, which is why I like to compare grades and pay.) There are people who spend less than they make and save up for rainy days. And there are people who spend money they don't have and wildly juggle things to stay afloat or scramble to fix things. Students seem to be like that. You have the ones who work hard and "save" a cushion. And you have those who"get by" with only as much work as required, and sometimes, it turns out, less.

1 comment:

Portia said...

When the kids went to college I told them three rules to follow and they will do fine.
1. Get to know your professors. If they know and like you, they will give you the benefit of the doubt
2. Attend ALL the classes!
3. Do all the extra credit possible "just in case"

This seems to have worked for them!