A reader wrote in:
I'm a grad student at [name redacted], and I had a question potentially for the Cocoon. I'm not particularly keen to have my name associated with it, because I'm always worried about undergrads finding out more than I want them to, but I was hoping for some wise advice.
The problem is a recurring one. I often meet students who are on scholarships with GPA minimums. I worry about those scholarships, especially in the first year of college when students are getting their legs under them. I worry that students aren't aware of the import of the decisions they are making until it is too late. And I worry that the universities reap the benefits, inflating their rankings-relevant statistics and getting students on the hook for tuition when they -- not surprisingly -- start off weak. Of course, the students are (sometimes) adults, but they are barely adults, and the schools are big, sophisticated players who certainly do (or very clearly should) foresee the dangers they are shuttling these students toward.
And if we were really concerned about student development, surely there'd be slack, at least in the beginning.
Your readers might think there's nothing problematic about these scholarships. I'm worried about what to do you if you believe, perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly but reasonably, that there is something problematic about them.
I haven't completely thought through the matter, but if you are at least worried like I am, what should you do about students who are on those scholarships who are performing poorly in your class? You can reach out to them to help them, but should you give them opportunity for aid other students don't get? And if you give them the grade they earn, then you're part of a scheme that will probably push them out of school or cost them tens of thousands of dollars. And if you help them, you're surely compromising your integrity as an instructor.
Maybe this is easier for other people -- for me, this is a very uncomfortable bind. Thoughts?
Here are a few brief thoughts. First, I have to confess that this is an issue that I've never really thought about--this despite the fact that the problem of first-year students messing up their first-year is a perennial problem I confront every year, and the issue strikes close to home (at least a few people very close to me lost or nearly lost their scholarships in the way you describe). Second, unfortunately, I don't know if I have any viable solution to offer...aside from perhaps readers of the Cocoon who serve on university (admissions?, academic standards?) committees raising/pressing the issue in those committees (following our reader's lead, I do think it is an important issue). Finally, I think the reader's question gestures toward a much broader issue that could use a lot more discussion: namely, what obligations do we have to students to help them avoid predictable pitfalls and improve success-rates?
I have to say: I don't think this issue is discussed nearly enough. Although I do not want to distract too much from the particular issue the reader raises, I've long had similar concerns about graduate school. I recently came across a statistic that only 50% of philosophy PhD students ever finish their programs. Furthermore, in my years in the profession, I've seen a lot of very intelligent, hard-working students wash out of grad school--and not, I think, for any good reason. Many of these students ran into very predictable grad school pitfalls (e.g. trouble developing a good dissertation topic)--pitfalls that student after student falls into, and which faculty could plausibly do a lot more to help them successfully navigate. Given how predictable many of these pitfalls are, given how high the stakes are in grad school (many PhD students go into debt, spend nearly a decade of their lives in their programs, subsisting on low TA wages, etc.), and given how much (it seems to me) faculty could help floundering students overcome these pitfalls, the sheer number of talented students who never make it through has always seemed to me a scandal.
In short, just as the above reader suspects we could do a whole lot more to protect vulnerable undergraduates from predictable, harmful pitfalls, I've long wondered whether faculty have a moral duty to do a whole lot more to ensure that grad students are able to successfully overcome the pitfalls that result too many talented, hardworking people failing to achieve their dreams. Isn't there more we could do? Isn't there more we should do? I leave it to you, my fellow Cocooners, to discuss...