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What Makes a Crummy College?

  1. Dec 15, 2006 #1
    What Makes a "Crummy" College?

    This came up in another thread as a side comment, and I felt the subject is important enough to need its own discussion.

    With that said: What exactly consitutes a "Crummy" College? Why do we rank things as "crummy" colleges? What could a student do at a "crummy" college to make themselves stand-out and take advantage of the "crummy" college to get a better than expected education?

    ....Yeah, that should be enough questions to get a good discussion out of this.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 15, 2006 #2


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    A crummy college is one that does not provide its students with all the resources they need to achieve their full potential. Resources include professors, laboratories, research projects, connections to businesses, physical equipment like computers, etc.

    A student could augment his/her school's resources with some of his/her own. For example, if a school doesn't provide a copy of a software program that the student really would benefit from learning, it's entirely possible for the student to buy that program with his/her own money, and either learn to use it on his/her own, or recruit a professor or TA to help.

    Of course, some resource deficiencies -- like professors -- cannot really be overcome this way.

    - Warren
  4. Dec 15, 2006 #3


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    At least in mathematics, the job market is so overrun with quaklified people, that it is difficult to imagine a college that does not have professors far more qualified than the students are able to appreciate.

    I do not know about other fields, but in math the quality of professors just gets better and better and has over at least the past 40 years, and there is no sign of it changing soon. this is extremely fortunate for the students seeking qualified instruction.
  5. Dec 16, 2006 #4
    mathwonk, in the other thread weren't you commenting that students have gotten worse over the years?

    it seems like something of a contradiction to have professors get better and students get worse.
  6. Dec 16, 2006 #5
    seems to me students have gotten better over the years, isn't that what grade inflation is all about, more students are doing what is considered A level work?

    Also, just because professorships are more competitve doesn't necessarily mean the professors being hired are better, as teachers at least, since they are being judged more on their research and ability to bring money in too the school rather than their ability to teach students. It doesn't take a brain like Einstein to teach undergraduate physics or math. Actually, having somebody who's less research focused and not as brilliant as others is probably better since they can understand the thought processes of students better. Its kinda like the med school issues where more personable people who maybe spend more time doing stuff with other people (and probably make better doctors) are being rejected to med school in favor of more introverted ultra-competitive kids who study their o-chem every night.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2006
  7. Dec 16, 2006 #6
    Not really.

    The professors themselves were the students who excelled and took an interest, whereas the general decline in the student body should probably be attributed to attitude more than anything. Mean IQ is not going down, as far as I'm aware. Speaking as an eighteen-year-old who is to attend university next fall, it doesn't strike me at all odd of a decline. Students feel entitled to marks without studying. I'm not saying this isn't a phenomenon of the past, too, but it's definitely more noticeable with higher admission rates.

    Another factor is likely that there exists an unnecessary pressure insisting that both everyone should and is able to study in university.

  8. Dec 17, 2006 #7


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    You have the right idea.

    I feel the same way about bad professors. There are many out there. But as mathwonk said, they are all more than qualified. I think that's awesome. Even if they do suck at teaching. I think this way because if you talk to them after class, it's just amazing to learn about how much they know, their research, and what not. It gives you a great sense of direction of where to go because they know so much and will share lots. You can't really get any good direction advice from people who haven't been anywhere. That's like me giving directions on how to go to Florida when I've been there. Makes no sense.
  9. Dec 17, 2006 #8


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    That's not a contradiction. Re-think that logic.

    I don't know if students have gotten worse, but the one thing I do know is that they're aren't too bright. I'm convinced some are retarded.

    After being a TA for a term, it was amazing how much I learned about students. I'm not impressed.

    In fact, sometimes I think I shouldn't even pass, but I pass. Not just pass, but get like an A. Is that really A level work? That's what inflation is. It isn't A level work. In the class I TAed for, I would say only 2 deserved an A out of like 50 students, but yet maybe like 10-20 will get an A. That's messed up.

    For some reason, if you work hard in school, you pass. It shouldn't be like this. It sounds stupid, but intelligence must play a big role, but it doesn't anymore. You simply work hard, and it will be impossible to fail. I feel that way anyways. Back in the day, students would work their balls off and still fail (stories from profs.). The way I look at it is...

    Failure is part of success.

    But nowadays we don't fail students. The only way you can fail is if you're a dumb nut who ain't working at all.
  10. Dec 17, 2006 #9
    You can't grade people based on their intelligence, you can only grade based on the work people do in class. A professor can't just say, "Well I think he understands the material so he gets an A, or I wasn't impressed with him so he'll get a C," if there was a school that operated that way, no one would go there. There has to be some sort of expectations set by the teacher for each grade level, if the kids meet them, whether they understand the material or not, you have to give them the grade they earned. The only way to counter grade inflation is to raise expectations i.e. make homeworks and exams harder so they segregate the people who understand the material from those who don't.
  11. Dec 17, 2006 #10


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    Did you read what I said?

    I said we shouldn't grade based on intelligence or amount of work alone. It should be a combination of the two. The only ones to get A's should be intelligent hard working students.
  12. Dec 17, 2006 #11


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    People won't go to any school where failing is normal. That's the bottom line. Here in North America, we avoid failing people so we inflate the grades.

    You won't counter grade inflation by increasing the expectations through hard assignments and what not. Who's going to go to your school now? Um... nobody. Even if they did, they would bell curve the marks all the way up. So, it brings you back to where you were before. That's the problem. If everyone is dumb, they just fix it by making it look like everyone is smart. Students complain and professors give in all the time when it comes to bringing marks up.
  13. Dec 17, 2006 #12


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    i didn't mean the professors at harvard are getting better. i meant the professors at georgia are getting better, and florida, and virginia tech, and all the places like state colleges and junior colleges, that once had less qualified professors.

    I.e. the overall level of qualification of professors in the countyry is getting higher. So more and more schools are getting well qualified professors. This actually causes a problem for the students at those places, since those students are not getting much better as measured say by SAT scores.

    In fact as measured by SATY scores stduents at mnay places are actually getting worse. A few years ago my harvard alumni magazine repoprted that grade averages at harvard had gove up from about C+ in 1960 to A- in say 1990. The students explanation was that they were smarter, but the average SAT score ahd gone down (before those were also inflated).

    It is a very slippery slope to measure a professor's teaching ability based on the students achievement. As freshmen at harvard in 1960 we were told that "thios is the firt time in your lives that your professors are not being graded on how you perform, you are."

    Thus we were put on notice not to blame our professor if we did not do the work necesary to absorb what we were being given. Mnay times on this forum I have given advice on how hard to work to do well, and students have reoplied with disbelief or scorn, with remarks like "well no one is working that hard here, and they are dpoing well."

    When I was a student it was not unusual for a student hopeful to audit a course for an entire year and doa ll the work in advance of taking it for credit, or to read 2-3 textbooks in addition to the ones used in the course.

    When I taught high school students diferential forms the ones who wanted a cap on how hard they should have to work said i was a bad teacher, but the motivated ones are now PhD holders.

    Of course poor professors exist, but they are far outnumbered by poor students. And the students get to pick their professors to a large extent, while the professors do not get to pick their students.

    I myself am guilty of complaining I did not have good physics professors, but maybe i didn't try very hard to overcome that. I remember playing cards in the back of physics class in high chool because it was so easy. If instead of just trying to satisfy low requirements, I had been trying to learn as much as possible, things probably would have turned out differently.

    The one time I did extend myself I elarned the teacher had more to offer, he just didn't think i wanted it.

    at harvard a good professor was often considered one who presented the highest level version of the material as possible. it was a challenge to us stduents to absorb it. of cousre there were also professirs whose fame lay in their wonderful lecturing style, but even this did not render the material easy to absorb.

    i often made the mistajke as a studnet of choosing the professor based on his good gandwriting, or predictable tests, because I could be sure of high grade by going through the motiions andmemorizing a defined set of data.

    i usually avoided the guys who camee in and drew something on the board and stood back talking about it, and leaving out steps. I was afraid to do the thinking needed to get a hig grade from them,a s it was not so cut and dried.

    I got what I deserved. In grad school I found I did not understand anything, and the material I had memorized from those high grading profs was not on a high enough level to carry me through. I had to get serious.

    it is very rare that the prof who is easy to get a high grade from is also the one who prepares you well.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2006
  14. Dec 17, 2006 #13


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    let me make another observation that may illuminate your search for the "good" teacher. As a student, you probably think a good teacher is one who helps you achieve your goals. thus the good teaacher for you is partly defiend by what your goals are.

    if your goal is to get a high grade and move on, that means your idea of a good teacher is very shallow. if your goal is to be well prepared to pass to another level of training for some job, your goal is slightloy more focused.

    if your goal is m erely to elarn as much as possible, damn the torpedoes and grades, that is an entirely different matter.

    and can you even imagine a scenario where the teacher knows what you should want to learn, even though you do not, and teaches it to you over your objections.

    years later you realize that teacher changed your life and opened doors you never knew about. at the time you may curse that teacher as too hard and inflexible. that may be the one who cared most about you. and helped you most.

    as a tiny example, i often present material that goes beyond what is in the textbook. some students are glad, because it helps them understand. others complain that it is too demanding to learn material that is not written in their own text, and they decline to visit the library where the material is written in other texts which i recommend.

    as to what is a good profesor, you pays your money and takes your choice.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2006
  15. Dec 17, 2006 #14


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    i will admit that in my career i started as a student who thought I wanted to learn as much as possoble, but did not have the stamina and will power and habits to sustain that level of work. I got bad grades and became cynical, becoming one of the students who just wanted a good grade and to move on.

    After moving on I again realized I was missing the understanding needed to really succeed. So I became again more idealistic, but now with the maturity needed to survive.

    I tried ever afterwards to balance those goals, but survival often took the upper hand.

    Now later in life, I hope to again indulge the desire to learn and understand mathematics for itself, instead of a grant deadline, or promotion dossier.

    best wishes to all of you in your own search.
  16. Dec 17, 2006 #15


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    as to how uniform opinions of the same prof are, here are some actual anonymous comments on my teaching taken from different members of the same class:

    - seriously deficient at increasing interest in the material.

    - Dr. Smith is such an exceptional teacher that rubs his love for math on to everyone that comes in contact with him. Stay aroud him for a month and believe me you will defenitely start enjoying math.

    - He comes to class well prepared. Not only does he teach us in class but also through our emails.

    - I wish that Smith would be slightly more prepared for class.

    - Dr. Smith demonstrated his passion for mathematics, which helped to make the class more interesting.

    - class instruction should follow the subject material more closely (from the book, since that is where the tests primarily come from)..
  17. Dec 17, 2006 #16


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    This of course starts long before the college/university level. Recently I read an interesting posting on a physics teachers' e-mail discussion group, from someone who has served on his college's admissions committee, and whose wife teaches in the local high school.

    For some time now, many or most colleges have been reducing the weight of high school GPA in the selection process, because so many students have high GPA's nowadays. Instead, they have been increasing the weight of the class rank, figuring that if an applicant is in the top 10% of his/her class, that says something positive, unless he's at a really crappy high school.

    But now even class rank is becoming less useful! It's common now for many students to attain 4.0 GPAs, and they're all listed as ranking #1 in their class (in a tie with the others). And it has apparently become common to allow students to raise their grades in a class by doing "extra credit" projects, to the point that many high-GPA students get their grades not by understanding the material well (and thereby doing well on tests and homework), but by piling up lots of extra credit.

    I had noticed that lately more and more students in introductory courses have been asking me about extra credit near the end of the semester (which I always refuse, in fact I always state "no extra credit" on my syllabi), and now I see where it's coming from.
  18. Dec 17, 2006 #17
    They're in college and they ask about extra credit? hahaha. "Extra" credit comes from doing the extra work by studying harder(better). Then you end up with more points! :) I've seen bonus questions on tests that don't count against you if its done incorrectly, but if I heard a classmate ask about extra credit I think I would feel slightly embarassed.
  19. Dec 17, 2006 #18
    See and what I bolded is what I want to talk about: This perspection of "Crappy" schools. I hear it all over these boards when giving advice and I more or less want to understand how people are judging these insitutations to make such blantent claims. Because the notion I tend to get is that unless you are at a select number of name-brand schools/ivy leagues your life is going to come to a crashing halt. And frankly I know that this is wrong. Many of my professors did not go to these schools and many are highly respected.
  20. Dec 17, 2006 #19
    at my school (above average liberal arts school) we didn't even get through griffiths EM or QM in 2 semesters, never had any lagrangian mechanics, etc..., so its easy to cast your physics education as crappy when other people the same age as you from other schools are doing GR or QFT.
  21. Dec 20, 2006 #20
    I think I can define a crummy college for you as I go to one. No research in my areas of interest (comp science), the students are mostly social science and education majors, and the students organization presence is almost invisible in the school. Clases are not even challenging.

    As I find myself in a situation where physycs one is boringly easy, calc 1 never even finish the course schedule( altho my professor is famous in the school for being the toughest) and my comp science intro professor gave out the tests itself as a review for the actual test. I finish above the marks in all my clases without really breaking a sweat. This is actually bad, really bad, because you develop really crummy habits that in better schools you'll work to fix them.

    This is my plan to make the most of what I've got.

    1. Read the text books on my own and research further topics that interest me.

    2. Look for summer research opportunities outside of the school.

    3. study on my own the matters that I feel were not covered with sufficient detail in class.
    4. Since I'm a comp science student, improve the IT infrastructure of the school as I learn more. Make the school itself my research project.

    5. Impress the heck out of everyone at my school ( including the girls ;) )

    6. DONT LET MY HEAD GROW TOO BIG. It is easy now because it is a crappy college. If I start believing I'm somesort of genious, I will be sadly disapponted when I can finnally afford a better school were competition is intense and the classmates are of the same knowledge level I am.
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