Consider some of the recent evidence for the decline in academic standards. In the early 1960s, full-time college students spent 40 hours per week on their academic activities – including class attendance, homework, studying, and writing. By the 2000s, the number had declined to 27 hours for full-time students – a reduction of 33 percent. Similarly, the time spent studying decreased from 25 hours in 1961 to 13 hours in 2003, a reduction of nearly 50 percent. Today, many students expect classes with little reading, as a third of social science students who are surveyed avoid classes with more than 40 pages of reading per week.
The decline of standards is accompanied by incredible grade inflation. Recent research on American grades found that a massive easing of standards took place across hundreds of colleges and universities in the last 50 years. About 15 percent of all grades were “A”s in the 1940s and 1950s, while about a third of grades were “B”s, a third were “C”s, and about 20 percent were “D”s of “F”s. By the late 2000s, the percentage of “A”s was nearly 45 percent, “B”s were 30 percent, and “Cs” were 15 percent. Just 10 percent of grades were “D”s or “F”s.
In their book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa discuss the “logic” driving the neoliberalization and gutting of higher ed standards. “A market-based logic,” they argue, “encourages students to focus on its [education’s] instrumental value – that is, as a credential – and to ignore its academic meaning and moral character.” I wholeheartedly agree. The neoliberal model treats teachers and students as automatons – as nothing more than “customers” and “sellers” in a “transaction” aimed at conferring “a degree.” Teachers mechanistically grant this degree, and students pay for that benefit to procure a job, and what they hope is a ticket into the middle class.