Posts Tagged open enrollment

Another round of testing…

So this weekend is the “Center Exam” in Japan — the largest university entrance exam. This of course has me wondering about what my students are going to be like year and thinking about the state of education in Japanese universities in general.

The Japan Times published a pretty good overview of the problems facing Japanese universities this week. It is well worth the read. A couple of quotes jumped out at me.

“The decline [in academic abilities] is not because Japanese are studying less, but because universities — amid the falling birthrate and greater competition to keep enrollment up- are increasingly accepting youths whose academic levels would have been too low”

This is absolutely true. I’ve seen it firsthand in the last eight years that I’ve been teaching at universities here. My first year teaching one of my biggest concerns was making sure that I was using materials that weren’t too difficult. Now, it’s convincing the students to buy the textbook and to bring it to class.

“Keeping the door open to people who want to go to college is not a bad thing, but universities must make students hit the books harder and make it more difficult to graduate”

I totally agree. I have no problem with so-called open university enrollment — I went to an open enrollment undergraduate university — but the flip side of open enrollment is not only that students actually have to prove themselves, but also that not everyone gets to graduate. I’ve worked at five different tertiary educational institutions here and at every single one of them, I have been pressured to pass students who didn’t deserve it.

Of course changing things is easier said than done. Education is such a complex problem and it is so hard to know where to begin to fix it. If universities were to start kicking students out after their first or second year, than in order to stay financially solvent, they would have to start admitting more and more first year students. Which would mean more faculty, specifically more adjunct faculty. But not just instructors, they would need more administrators. Universities would also need more classrooms, bigger campuses, more facilities. It’s not a simple problem.

“Accepting more foreign students with strong skills and knowledge will improve the overall academic achievement statistics.”

In my experience this usually doesn’t work. Two things generally happen with the international students. First (and this is the most common) international students become just as lazy as the Japanese students. This is human nature. Why should these students study any harder than anyone else? There is no reason to; so they don’t. Second, if they are truly motivated and want to learn, they leave.

It is such a complex problem and one that is way above my pay-grade to fix. I just hope that next year my students are decent kids who approach studying English, and the university experience in general, with an open mind. I hope that they are willing to trust me and are willing to try. But they probably won’t be.

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A cause of plagiarism?

So there is an interesting article over on the Mind Shift blog (part of NPR’s KQED’s website) called What’s behind the culture of academic dishonesty. It’s an interesting article that discusses plagiarism and other types of cheating in education and notes that:

“…it’s time to scrutinize the underlying behaviors and motivation for all this cheating.”

I completely agree. Now, I haven’t done any research myself into the problem of plagiarism and/or cheating, and I have only read a few studies, but I did spend seven years in higher education as a student, and have spent the better part of the last 10 years as an instructor. During that time I have come in contact with students cheating on exams and plagiarizing on papers. Through my (albeit anecdotal) experience, I feel that one of the key factors to blame for an increase in cheating on campus is the open enrollment system.*

Japan doesn’t have an open enrollment system, but because of the low numbers of 18 year olds, there are more spaces available at universities than there are slots to fill them, so if a student has the desire and the money, or more appropriately, if the student’s parents have the desire for their child to go to university and they have the money, then they will be admitted somewhere – usually at a mid or lower ranking school, like where I teach. It is defacto open enrollment.

The problem with open enrollment is that schools end up taking students who lack the motivation, maturity, study skills, social skills, time management skills, self-discipline, self-esteem, and even (dare I say it) the intellectual capacity to be at university. In my experience it is these students who cheat. They cheat not because they are bad people; they are not dishonest, liars or con men. They are not trying to ‘game the system’ as often is the stereotype. They cheat because they are completely in over their heads, are under huge pressure to perform and don’t know what else to do.

It is a very controversial thing to say, largely because I would probably be out of a job, but I think that the open enrollment system needs a serious re-thinking and not just because of the cheating/plagiarism problem.

*For those who don’t know or remember, an open enrollment system is one that, in its most basic form, is simply that institutions of higher learning are required to accept all applicants. For example, back in the 90’s when I was an undergrad, all trade schools, community colleges and four-year colleges in Colorado (in other words, everyone except the four universities) were required by law to admit all students who graduated from a Colorado high school, regardless of their grades, test scores, etc. I don’t know if that is still the case.

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