Dangers of Credentialing the College Degree: A Real-Life Example

Jason Fertig

Editor's note: The following guest essay, presented by NAS member Jason Fertig, is a case study based on real events.  Dr. Fertig is an assistant professor of management at the University of Southern Indiana.

If there is a “critical incident” that characterizes the modern college student, this is that incident. I love teaching and I have had great students, but unfortunately I can assert that the following scenario is not unique in dealing with college students.

The following exchange between a professor and a traditional “super-senior” takes place during an online Management course over a college semester.  Events occur in real-time.

[Note to readers: The following situation is 100% true. The names are anonymous to protect the identity of those involved.  All emails are verbatim (complete with typos) and they are only edited to remove any references or phrases that would lessen the anonymity of those involved.]

______________________________

Dear Professor Van Helsing,

My name is Drake Yula, and I am one class away from graduating with a Public Relations Degree. In order to accomplish this, I have to take a class outside of Mass Comm, that is an upper level class. I am also the Director of Operation for a local business, so online classes is really the only option for me. I wanted to see what I could do to enroll in Principals of Management for the summer session. I am in desperate need of this class, and I have already taken an upper level Management class in a different semester.

Please let me know what I can do in order to move forward with this.

Thank you,

Drake Yula

______________________________

Hi Drake,

As long as you have all the required prerequisites, you should be able to just register for the class as you would any other class.  I just checked and there are still seats open.

Have a great day!

Best,

Professor Van Helsing

______________________________

Professor, 

Thank you for getting back to me. The prerequisites are the issue. I have taken Intro to Psychology, and I have also taken two Economics courses, but no ACCT of any kind. I was hoping to try and bypass some of those.

Thanks,

Drake

______________________________

Hi Drake,

How did you get into an upper-level Management class without taking the lower-level prerequisite?  If someone let you bypass the prerequisites, that would be the same path to take to get into my course.   Let me know how it goes….

Best,

Professor Van Helsing  

P.S. - Just a word of friendly advice….if you get in, being that you are one class away, please don’t slack in this class. It hurts that a few students fail each semester because of an obvious lack of self-discipline.  When I hear a student try to get into a class “because they need one class to graduate,” it sends up a flag to me to give my friendly warning because we all want you to graduate……. 

______________________________

Professor,

I worked with Professor Stoker. As for slacking, that is the last thing on my mind. I hold a full-time job, that is why online classes would be my only option. I have to hace a class outside of Mass Comm that is upper-level.

Thank you,

Drake

______________________________

Hi Drake,

Thanks for the reply.  I’m fine with you taking my Management class; it’s just a question of the bureaucracy.  Was Professor Stoker teaching the class or your advisor?  If Professor Stoker was the professor, I would go to the registrar first.  That would be the place that would ultimately override for you.  If Professor Stoker is your advisor, I’d start there….

Keep me posted…..

Best,

Professor Van Helsing

______________________________

Professor Van Helsing,

Professor Stoker was teaching the class. I originally started out by having Professor Stoker use my business as a reference for student projects. I will keep you updated.

Thank you,

Drake

______________________________

[Drake enrolls in the course.  Fast forward to the day of the first of two exams…]

______________________________

Professor Van Helsing,

I was not aware of the date and went to take all of the quizes this evening, and just now realized that the quizes were due yesterday. I am never the person to make excuses for anything, but I am the Director of Operations for a local business, and I have worked over 80 hours the last two weeks. My plan has been to read all of the chapters at night, and then take every quiz tonight, as if it were a test. I feel that this is the best way that I comprihend all of the material. I would be forever grateful if I could get one more day on all of the quizes. I will make sure that they will all be down by midnight on the 26th, despite working a 17 hour day on Wednesday. (That is why I have to take the test on Thursday). Once again, I am not making excuses for myself, but I hope that you find my situation unique and allow me this extension because of my job and the fact that I have to already manage 20 full time employees and 156 part-time employees.

Thank you and I really look forward to hearing from you soon.

Drake

______________________________

Drake, 

Do you remember this email exchange with me:

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<< 

Hi Drake,

.......

P.S. - Just a word of friendly advice….if you get in, being that you are one class away, please don’t slack in this class.  It hurts that a few students fail each semester because of an obvious lack of self-discipline.  When I hear a student try to get into a class “because they need one class to graduate,” it sends up a flag to me to give my friendly warning because we all want you to graduate…….

----------------------------------

Professor Van Helsing,

…..

As for slacking, that is the last thing on my mind. I hold a full-time job, that is why online classes would be my only option. I have to hace a class outside of Mass Comm that is upper-level.

Thank you,

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<   

 

Based on your email here, I am honestly in shock, and I have been thinking how to reply to the message for the last day.  First thing, the sloppiness of the email demonstrates such a lack of respect for yourself and the class, that I can just leave it at that and feel like I got my message across.  Remember, you represent not just yourself, but your organization.  Is this the way you want to portray your organization to the school? 

With that said, the teacher in me feels like I need to go through your message and point out why I cannot provide an extension on the quizzes.

"I was not aware of the date and went to take all of the quizes this evening, and just now realized that the quizes were due yesterday."

- Honestly, I am interested in how you "forgot the date."  It's one thing to have it happen on vacation, but isn't your whole organization organized around dates?  Now, in the grand scheme of things, I wonder if you just didn't communicate your mistake to me properly.  Did you not know when the quizzes were due?  Did you just forget given that your mind was focused on your job?  If I heard that, I would be more sympathetic.

"I am never the person to make excuses for anything, but I am the the Director of Operations for a local business, and I have worked over 80 hours the last two weeks."

- Then why did you just make an excuse here?  Say you messed up, are willing to accept the consequences, and want to know the best way to proceed through the class.

"My plan has been to read all of the chapters at night, and then take every quiz tonight, as if it were a test. I feel that this is the best way that I comprihend all of the material."

- But if you listened to my lectures, you'd know that the quizzes do not mimic the test, they just keep you honest with reading.  Additionally, there is more to read than just the book, and I see that you first accessed the course one day ago.  This is the complete opposite of what you conveyed to be when you asked into this course.

"Once again, I am not making excuses for myself, but I hope that you find my situation unique and allow me this extension because of my job and the fact that I have to already manage 20 full time employees and 156 part-time employees.”

- Again, you say you're not making excuses, but that is what you just did.  You're situation is unique, but only because of the organization where you work.  Most students work full-time, some work night shifts.  In fact, if you want to see unique - I have had students get surgery, then call into class and give a presentation over speakerphone while still on painkillers.  I've had sick students drive over an hour to take the exam when it was given.  I had full-time working students notify me beforehand that a work assignment forced them to travel and thus they need a better time to take the test - then they met me at Borders to take a make-up.  Compare these actions to what you are conveying to me.

Again, I expect this email to sting at bit.  If it doesn't, that would disturb me more.  These messages are not my favorite thing to do, especially since we are close in age, and I don't enjoy being parental with students who are also part of my peer group, but I know that what I say here needs to be said.

My instinct is to advise you to drop the class, because I see a high probability of doing poorly on the test given your preparation.  Yet, I'm rooting for you to do well, and I will reserve any further comment until I see how you perform on the test.

Best,

Professor Van Helsing

______________________________

 [Note to readers: Drake gets a 58% on the first exam]  

______________________________

Professor,   

I do remeber the email, and the last thing that I is a slacker. I put my career ahead of my education and completly understand where you are coming from. I just complted the exam, and understand if you do not open up the quizes for me. I hope that my lack of judgement does not put a burden on me as a person. I am going to continue to work hard to prove myself to you.   

In closing, i would be greatful if the quizes were opened back up for one day, but if not, is there something else that I could do to make up any of the points?    

Thank you for your time.  

Drake

______________________________

Hi Drake,   

The best thing you can do is show me the performance-level that Drake gives in his career and you'll "make up the points" by raising your grade with a good second half of class.  I trust that you'll put in the necessary work because your first exam score has your back against the wall.  Many of your test answers reflected a lack of preparation, although only you can be the true judge on that statement.  Again, if you want a better grade, please put in the work necessary given your other responsibilities.  If you just want to pass, you only need a slight grade improvement on the first test.   

On a side note, I think using your mobile phone for emails contributes to sloppy emails.  There were so many typos in this last message and it looks really unprofessional.    

Have a great weekend!    
 

Best,  

Professor Van Helsing

______________________________ 

 [Note to readers: Drake gets a 64% on the final exam; his class average is 58% when accounting for all assessments.]   

______________________________ 

Professor,   

I just looked online at my grade and saw that I was one of the ones that got a "F" in the class. Is there anything that I can do to have this looked at again. I felt extremely confident going into the last test as I studied for days and tried to remember everything that you asked us to remember, but yet still got only a 64. I am begging you to reconsider and allow me to do something to make this up, because with me not passing this course, means that I am not graduating, and therefore not able to move forward with my job. Along with that, I will have to pay for this class again, and I do not have the funds to be able to do that. I know that I messed up with the first set of quizzes, but if you could please open those up so I can make up the 2% to get a "D" then I will be forever grateful. Please either give me a call or email me to figure out what I need to do to make up for this. I can not go on without this credit.  

Thank you for your time and I look forward to talking with you soon.

Drake

______________________________

Hi Drake,   

I hope you take the time to read this message.   

Believe me, I have no joy in seeing this situation.  It's actually frustrating for me as a teacher, because I know that your performance in the class may not reflect your abilities.  Yet, my responsibilities as a teacher require me to assign grades based on class performance, not on personality or other individual characteristics.  I can only see performance, and there are several things that I have observed over this semester that justify the 58 average and the F grade.   

First, this is the 3rd time you have asked me to "reopen the quizzes."  I sent an email earlier that explained in detail why that cannot happen and I don't know what else to say without getting too direct.   There are other students who didn't take all the quizzes.  Should I reopen the quizzes for them too?  I don't know why you feel that I should bend the rules.  What kind of ethics would that convey?   Additionally, how can you justify the 19/30 on the second half quizzes?  That alone cost you the class.   

Secondly, referring to the T. Friedman article about the flotilla crisis as "non-exciting" [on the exam] is not befitting of someone that is close to graduating college.  That is a volatile situation that has the potential to escalate into a regional war or worse, and it is something that I expect that students know already, not hear for the first time in my class.  I can understand a statement like that from a younger high school or elementary school student who is centered on individual pleasure, not from a 25-year-old adult with a college education that should give them the ability to understand the current world.  

Next, I read a clear statement on your exam about how you loathe helicopter parents and giving trophies to everyone, yet (I know this may sting) aren't you asking me to do the same thing for you here?  I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but I don't see how that is possible.  

Finally, the following statement [from an exam essay]:  

"I wanted to write about 'What did I learn', but in truth, I did not learn much of anything.  Management can not be taught in a book or classroom, it is 100% experiential learning from mistakes."  

I can't tell you how revealing this statement is here.  You are completely entitled to say whatever you like about the course, yet what this statement conveys, (cavalierly, sarcastically, or otherwise) is an admission of guilt.  If you would have learned anything in the course, you would have learned that I said from the first lecture on that this class was not about how to manage (see my comparison to parenting), it was about appreciating the historical development of management; the best thing you can learn is that (1) very little is new, and (2) you should question something that seems new, when in fact, it's something that has been practiced for eons.  Why should one pass this course with this outlook?  

For these reasons, I cannot pass you in this course.  At no point, have I seen you take any personal responsibility for your performance in the class.  I just see begging for points that have gone by.  I wish this could have unfolded better.  I would rather have worked with you to see you improve, but instead, this discussion seems to be stuck in this rut of begging for points.  It's likely that in the short term, you’re going to have a bad taste in your mouth and you'll probably be mad at me to some degree since I still haven't seen any self-awareness.  Yet, I hope in the long run, this experience will strengthen your resolve as a person and you'll learn not to take things for granted.  

I'm happy to continue this discussion further (I just saw that you left me a voicemail too, feel free to call anytime), but only if it's centered on the appropriate steps.  

Best,

Professor Van Helsing

______________________

[Note to readers: Professor Van Helsing is still waiting to hear from Drake]  

Afterward:

The scenario presented above, while I wish it was unique, is becoming all too familiar for teaching the modern student.  It’s commonplace to find intellectuals and academics discussing the “grade inflation” of college students’ GPAs.  These discussions usually present a statistic that shows a 0.5-1.0 point rise in average GPA over a period of time.  The discussions may also state how an A or B is the most common grade in a given university.  Yet, while A’s are more common, the real grade inflation is what occurs at the bottom of class distributions.

Every F that is inflated to a D or C grade moves a given student to the next level without that student demonstrating satisfactory performance.  When last year’s C becomes this year’s A, at least there is some assumption of competency.  Drake Yula made his intentions clear – he needed to graduate and he was not interested in learning.  While Drake failed this course here, how many “Drakes” are receiving diplomas each year?  The damage to the worth of a college education and the ensuing credential inflation increases exponentially with every “Drake” that walks across that stage.

When lawmakers advocate for increased college degrees, or base state funding on increasing graduation rates, are they talking about granting degrees to (the abstract category of) students so they can benefit from the (statistically questionable) wage premium of the degree, or are they really inferring that more “Drakes” will grace college campuses and expect degrees in exchange for tuition and little work?

  • Share

Most Commented

September 16, 2019

Slavery Did Not Make America Rich

'King Cotton' isn't King

September 18, 2019

Most Read

January 03, 2011

May 26, 2010