Student Reality Check

Originally created by: Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

Heavily modified and made more relevant to CWU students by Bob Hickey


What does a university do?

It provides access to education. Professors, the library, labs, facilities, power, wifi, (sometimes) shoveled sidewalks, parking, international programs, dorms, food, etc. Everything you need to learn. Universities also provide considerable non-academic stuff - think athletics, the Rec center, the outdoor center, clubs, homecoming, comedians, movies, etc.

Universities also provide certification. This comes in the form of grades and degrees. There is a basic understanding out there in the world that if you do well in classes and meet degree requirements that you know something. Grade inflation does nothing but make your degree less valuable.

Universities also provide insane amounts of assistance. Tutoring, counseling, daycare, medical services, advising, funding, scholarships, waivers, etc. Almost anything you need can be found at a university - if you look/ask around.


Things Students Say about Classes


This Course Covered Too Much Material...

Great! You got your money's worth! At $200/creidt , $265/credit (summer), or less if going fulltime (2017 numbers at CWU), you should complain about not getting a lot of information. If you take a five credit course and get $200 worth of information, you have a right to complain. If you get $2000 worth, you got a bargain. The more you know, the better.


The Expected Grade Just for Coming to Class is a B

This belief seems to be making the rounds in some college circles. The expected grade for just coming to class and not doing anything else is a D or an F. The average grade is supposed to be C although grade inflation is a perennial problem.


I Disagreed With the Professor's Stand on ----

The time to deal with this issue is when it comes up in class. Or during office hours.

But the professor might put me down, or the students might laugh at me. Not too likely, but even if it happens, so what? If you don't have courage in the safe setting of a classroom, when exactly are you planning to develop it? When your boss asks you to falsify figures or lie under oath? When someone throws rocks through your minority neighbor's windows? When the local hate group burns the synagogue?

However, something to remember: we deal with facts in most classes, especially the sciences. If you disagree, bring real facts, not alternative facts.


Some Topics in Class Weren't on the Exams

The point of a class is the material, not the exam. The exam is a check to see whether you learned the material.


Do You Give Out a Study Guide?

Hmm. The textbook simplifies a vast amount of material, then I simplify it more in lecture. Then you want me to extract the most important ten per cent of that and put it on a study guide, so if you know most of it you can get an A.

So what you're saying is the cutoff grade for an A should be 10%, right?

If I talk about it or assign it, it is fair game on an exam.


I Studied for Hours

How many? A college credit is defined as three hours' work per week; one in class and two outside.

This means that 12 credits translates to an average of 36 hours' work a week. That's why 12 credits is considered full time; it's the equivalent of a full-time job.

If you have a course that meets five hours a week for 5 credits but doesn't require ten hours of outside work a week to keep up, consider yourself lucky. Or be annoyed that you aren't getting your money's worth. Other courses may require more time. Also, individual students require different amounts of study time. It does no good to complain that three hours a week per credit is excessive any more than it does to complain that 26.2 miles is too long for a marathon. They are what they are.

The one thing you can count on is that a few hours of cramming before the final will not give good results. You're better off getting a decent night's sleep.


I Know The Material - I Just Don't Do Well on Exams

Every type of exam used in college requires specific, vital intellectual skills. Essay exams require you to organize material and present it in your own words. Short-answer exams require you to frame precise, concise answers to questions. Multiple choice exams require you to define criteria for weeding out false alternatives and selecting one best answer. All of these are useful skills in themselves. If you don't do well on some specific type of test - learn the appropriate skill.

There are a LOT of people at CWU that will help you with this. Just ask.


I Don't Have Time For......

Life is about choices. We all have more to do than we can do completely, and we have to set priorities. So we may have to accept tradeoffs. Some options:

The one option that is never on the table in life is to choose a course of action and choose the consequences. If you select a course of action, you also select the consequences. If you want to avoid or achieve a certain set of consequences, select your course of action accordingly.


Students Are Customers

True. Students are customers, and they have every right to complain about poor service, unprofessional behavior, and out-of-date material. They also have a right to complain about low standards that water down their credentials.

Students are also products, and employers outside the University are also our customers. These customers have a right to complain if our graduates are lacking in skills, knowledge, and motivation. They have a right to complain if we certify someone as being a potentially good employee and that person turns out to be unqualified.

Despite the rising share students pay for their college education, students still only pay about half of the total cost (at CWU - we're still one of the least expensive options in the US, believe it or not). That means the University's responsibility is about 50% to students, and 50% to the community. And our customers in the community want people who can communicate, reason, and have a good general stock of knowledge they can call on for unexpected needs. They also want us to provide an assessment that accurately reflects the quality of work students are likely to turn out as employees.


Do I Need to Know This?

You can survive without the things you learn in college. People survive scrounging out of dumpsters and sleeping in doorways. If you want to talk about quality of life, we need to be a bit more demanding. And you never, ever know what information might be useful. Or might lead to something useful. The more you know, the better off you will be.

As an example, I was chatting with a friend who was complaining about a required physics class. And how useless it was. Really? Physics is all about explaining how everything works. Everything. And the math? Sure, he may never do another physics math problem, but he will come out of the class being better able to both do and apply math - in any context.


There Was Too Much Memorization

Sad to say, students have been victims of a cruel hoax. You've been told ever since grade school that memorization isn't important. Well, it is important, and our system wastes the years when it is easiest to learn new skills like the ability to memorize.

Memorization is not the antithesis of creativity; it is absolutely indispensable to creativity. Creative insights come at odd and unpredictable moments, not when you have all the references spread out on the table in front of you. You can't possibly hope to have creative insights unless you have memorized all the relevant information. And you can't hope to have really creative insights unless you have memorized a vast amount of information, because you have no way of knowing what might turn out to be useful.

Rote memorization is a choice. If you remember facts and concepts as part of an integrated whole that expands your intellectual horizons, it won't be rote. If you merely remember things to get through the next exam, it will be rote, and a whole lot less interesting, too. But that is solely your choice.


This Course Wasn't Relevant

If something as vast as mathematics or biology or geography can pass through your brain without even scraping the sides on the way through, that's a pretty big hole.

Our other customers in the community want people who have a good general stock of knowledge they can call on for unexpected needs. Being able to cope with unexpected needs means learning things that may not be immediately needed. You need to stop worrying about whether you need it now and begin worrying about whether your boss might need it later.

As an example, a ten year old British girl holidaying in Thailand saved hundreds of lives on December 26, 2004. She had just learned about tsunamis in school, recognized the warning signs, and convinced her parents to warn the resort management. As a result, there were almost no casualties at her resort. In all likelihood none of her classmates will ever have need to know about tsunamis. A number of indigenous groups in the region escaped the tsunami with almost no casualties. They recognized the warning signs, which had been passed along through generations with no tsunamis, until finally that "irrelevant" knowledge became relevant. Life and death relevant.


Exams Don't Reflect Real Life

Some critics of education have said that examinations are unrealistic - specifically because they are scheduled well in advance and everyone knows what will be on the exam.

When Rudy Giuliani took office as mayor of New York, noone told him "On September 11, 2001, terrorists will fly airplanes into the World Trade Center, and you will be judged on how effectively you cope."

Examinations are unrealistic. On the job evaluations where people are told in advance when they will be evaluated and exactly what will be covered are even more unrealistic. Exams are utterly artificial, carefully neutered attempts to be as fair as possible. The most meaningful evaluations in life are:

When you skid on an icy road, nobody will listen when you complain it's unfair because you weren't warned in advance, had no experience with winter driving, and had never been taught how to cope with a skid.


I Paid Good Money for This Course and I Deserve a Good Grade

Right on! And ---

Almost everything you pay for in life is an entry fee. What happens next is up to you.

Whay you're paying for is access to education. Whether or not you receive an education is entirely up to you.


Updated by Bob Hickey, 2017

Original created in 1999; Last Update in 2010 by Prof. Green.