Developing smartness: The lost mission of higher education

Headlines within the postsecondary press report morre frequently the "alarm" of students arriving at college that lack sufficient academic preparation and their subsequent need for enrollment in developmental-level courses. These are  not new concerns. Higher education officials have been voicing them since the first college oppened in America four hundred years ago. Why are we surprised? Students go to college to learn what they don't already know and to do things that are yet to have the skills for.

The change in the dialogue is now that more policy makers want to stratify access and opportunity in higher education. Admit only those students who are already smart and skilled and send the rest to the community college. Even community colleges are increasingly voicing frustration over the burden and some call for entry level standards and elimination of open door admissions. Before proceeding with that conversation, they should review Dr. Astin's article on this subject.

Astin, A. W. (1998). Remedial education and civic responsibility. National Crosstalk, 6(2), 12-13. Retrieved July 4, 2004, from: ctsummer98.pdf The author, director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, argues that remedial education is the most important problem in education today and providing instruction in this area would do more to alleviate more social and economic problems than any other activity. Astin discusses the history and stigma of remedial education and how higher education has become focused on "identifying smart students" rather than "developing smartness" in all its students. Astin argues that it is for the benefit of society that remedial education, affirmative action, and other programs be highly supported and valued.

It is easy for a college to take highly gifted students and help their reach even higher. It takes much more skill, commitment, and dedication to take students who have high desire, but have yet obtained a wide set of skills, experiences, and knowledge. But isn't that what the general public wants us to do? Identifying smart students and admitting them is easy. "Developing smartness" is much harder. And more satisfying.