Our Role in Education
In a July 23rd article for the New York Times entitled “The Fundamental Way Universities are an Illusion,” Kevin Carey discusses the manufactured pride of colleges across America. Analyzing the findings of a new book, “How College Affects Students” by Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini, Carey notes that among the 848 pages compiling and analyzing decades of data and research about colleges, the authors found little evidence supporting universities’ claims of superior “academic rigor.” Indeed, despite the advertising of admissions departments and the promises to deliver first-rate educations, the studies found little evidence for differing levels of intellectual development between colleges. Rather, the studies showed that universities offer extremely similar products, but instead the actions and decisions of students play a far greater role in determining success. This research, and Carey’s analysis of it, lend an important perspective to our college experience here at Yeshiva University.
Despite the overall trend of their research demonstrating the equal levels of education between colleges, Pascarella and Terenzini found a few components which contribute towards more successful academic environments. Specifically, Carey notes the positive influence of close relationships with faculty and peers. Reading these factors, I recalled many heated late-night discussions in spring of last year about academic changes at Yeshiva College. Over the last five years, the size of the Yeshiva College faculty has decreased, while class size has increased. Last spring in particular, significant reductions were made concurrent with the elimination of the First Year Seminar Program. According to Carey’s claims, these changes detrimentally affect our college. Lowering faculty, while increasing class size, hurts our ability to develop close relationships with both professors and peers. The many talented professors who have left this University without being replaced contributes towards this. And eliminating First Year Seminar, a small, discussion based class helpful to the growth and relationships of many first year students, worsens these effects.
Nonetheless, we must contextualize these changes within the broader landscape of Yeshiva College and Pascarella and Terenzini’s research. Firstly, in terms of Yeshiva College, despite budget constraints, class sizes remain incredibly small. A simple perusal of the course schedule will reveal the abundance of courses with enrollment in the teens, or even single-digits. Additionally, though some professors have left, excellent professors still fill our halls and classrooms. And while First Year Seminar was cut, the First Year Writing Program and many other great courses still remain. Our college continues to create an environment conducive towards developing close relationship with professors and peers.
Secondly, and more significantly, Carey notes that the contribution of these components pale in comparison with the initiatives of students. Though a low teacher-to-student ratio grants greater opportunities for success, at the end of the day, our education lies in our hands. Carey detects a trend that can be seen in any Yeshiva College classroom. No matter how engaging a professor or subject is, or how many office hours they offer, the students remain in control of their education. The courses we choose, the professors we seek out for conversations, the work and effort we exert into our courses and extracurricular passions, the discussions and debates we have outside the classroom- these determine our college experience. The opportunities for an incredible education exist all around us here at Yeshiva University. But education only happens when we exert ourselves, and we seek out our interests and our passions. The opportunities are here; it is up to us to seize them.