Higher education commissioner's statement paints students as slackers - Purdue Exponent: Opinions

Higher education commissioner's statement paints students as slackers

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Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 10:00 am

Indiana lawmakers seem to think college students spend all their time sipping wine and watching reality TV.

The state’s higher education commissioner, Teresa Lubbers, recently sent a condescending statement about college completion rates to media outlets around Indiana. The statement, motivated by House Bill 1348, which would link colleges’ state funding to students’ graduation rates and increase the number of credit hours required for students receiving state aid, makes Lubbers sound out-of-touch with students’ lives.

For instance, she wants “Hoosier students to make smarter choices about how they finance ... a college degree” and that “taxpayers have a right to expect a better return on their investment.”

As a university, we should be offended that someone charged with overseeing higher education thinks we’re lazy. Maybe that’s the case on other campuses – Lubbers graduated from Indiana University, for what it matters – but at Purdue, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t work hard.

State lawmakers have already tried to isolate students this year – think back to the bill targeting out-of-state students voting, for instance – and these blanketing generalizations do not help. We are hard-working students, but we’re also taxpayers, interns, employees, leaders and volunteers. We pull all-nighters to finish projects, we spend the weekend before an exam studying, and when our work is done, we have fun.

Simply requiring students to take more credit hours, as Lubbers suggests, doesn’t add up. This semester, Purdue students are enrolled in an average of slightly more than 15 credit hours, which already meets the bill’s goal for credit hours taken per year. Even so, graduating from most Purdue colleges in four years requires taking more than 15 credit hours at a time.

In line with HB 1348, Lubbers recommends students should map out their entire college course plan. The problem with this lies in the fact that courses are not always available when students need them. Class meeting times can overlap, and students may need to reserve certain blocks of time for jobs or internships. Purdue’s class listings are not available to students until shortly before registration begins, leaving students to scramble to rearrange their plan for the next semester.

A more controversial aspect of the bill states that schools must waive costs to take a course if it is not available during the term a student had planned to take it. This would make the University more proactive about campus-wide scheduling, which many students would appreciate, but it also would pose what could become a major financial burden on Purdue.

With students in nearly 200 majors and just as many minors, there are times when it does not make sense to fund an additional course section for only a few students. This so-called solution eventually would be reflected in higher tuition costs to offset waiving tuition in certain instances. Making schedules available sooner and ensuring students know when certain courses are available would hold students responsible without financially burdening the University.

Lubbers also suggests that every student entering college should graduate. High schools, parents and peers alike romanticize college as a castle in the sky. In reality, postsecondary education is challenging, and not every student belongs on a college campus. Rather than pushing unprepared, mildly enthusiastic students through to graduation, which would weaken the value of a Purdue degree, secondary schools should better prepare students for alternate career paths. Not everyone needs a college degree. Society needs maintenance workers and secretaries, but saddling them with a semester or two worth of student debt is pointless.

Maybe this bill would benefit students on other Indiana campuses. Regardless, a higher education official shouldn’t make such patronizing statements about such a goal-oriented demographic. We’re not perfect, but we’re trying.

Emily Tate is a senior in the College of Liberal Arts and can be reached at opinions@purdueexponent.org.

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