Diverse Classrooms and What Happens Next

Inside Higher Ed‘s Dean Dad has a good blog post on some of the ramifications of more diverse college classrooms:

Some professors who were in on the conversation said that they’re seeing the tension in their classes. In the disciplines for which there are no developmental courses, the range of drive and talent in class is usually quite wide. The professors reported seeing an even wider range this year, with more people on either extreme. In some cases, it’s actually becoming a class management problem, since the top students sometimes lose patience with the bottom, and vice versa. And there are enough in each camp that it’s hard to write the tensions off to the stray outlier.

The growing disparity of ability probably explains the newfound enthusiasm among some professors for prereqs. Over the years, more intro-level courses have specified something like “English 101 eligible” as a prerequisite, on the grounds that the course assumes college-level reading and writing ability. As more courses have built those walls, the great waves of students who don’t qualify instead hit the remaining courses in larger numbers. Those professors note with alarm the declining ability of their classes, so they, too, campaign for prereqs. It’s individually rational, but it creates some weird side effects.

Among other things, it makes group work much harder. When the disparities within the group are just too wide, the students on each extreme can start to resent the others. In a perfect world, of course, everyone would appreciate everyone else’s unique strengths, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.