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letters | holding universities accountable for their graduates?

Students fail for many reasons, and colleges shouldn’t pay the price

I DISAGREE with Edward L. Glaeser, who argues that the federal government should offer financial incentives to colleges to encourage them to help students achieve “long-run success” (“College debts but no degree? Reform the Pell grant program,” Op-ed, Dec. 27).

Glaeser uses Jason DeParle’s article in the New York Times about three young women who failed to achieve upward mobility by attending college as anecdotal evidence; I offer my own anecdotal evidence drawn from teaching at a Massachusetts community college to argue that students and the complexities of their lives, rather than schools, are responsible.

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I taught approximately 60 students this semester; 10 either failed or dropped my course. One, an A student, suddenly dropped the class. Others simply didn’t hand in enough assignments to pass. About half of these stopped attending class before the end of the semester, and about half continued attending class but did not submit written work.

All these students demonstrated, in assignments submitted early in the semester, that they had the academic skills necessary to complete the class.

Probably, the reasons each of them did not submit required work were as varied as the students themselves; years of teaching leads me to assume that most of them wanted to pass my class, but outside circumstances, in or out their control, got in the way.

Whatever these circumstances were, I see no reason the school should be held responsible. Giving financial incentives tied to student success would not have helped these students succeed. By penalizing schools that fail students who do not do the work, Glaeser’s plan would harm those students who work hard and acquire academic skills.

Helene Simon


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