Thursday, June 21, 2007

Observations about students today

I had a chance to meet with Roger Whitney of SDSU fame, and he had a number of very interesting comments about education. Hopefully I got my notes right, so please let me know if I missed something.

There are three college systems in California. There is the University of California, California State, and the Community Colleges. Twenty years ago, it used to be the case that middle+ class people would go to UC, and because they could afford it they would become full time students. People that couldn't afford that would go to California State, and the Community Colleges would offer mostly 2 year courses like they do now.

Well that was 20 years ago. Now, UC is getting full of part time students. And since part time students have a job and have to deal with life more than they can deal with their studies, naturally they can absorb less material. As such, it's a worrying prospect because less and less students are full time.

Since proposition 13 passed, colleges can charge for tuition. This didn't use to be the case, and thus before that universities in California were free mod some fees. In other words, just like UBA. But different funding changed this. What happens now? Over the last number of years, the cost of tuition has been increasing anywhere between 10% and 40% a year. In other words, this just contributes to the decreased amount of full time students, which impacts our future ability to accomplish stuff.

Because most students of computer science are part time, it seems fitting that they don't see things ranging from hash to linear algebra. What? CS students without linear algebra? You got that right. And who could blame them? At UBA, Linear Algebra 1 was 10 hours of class a week! If you have a job and are studying part time, it will be hard enough to take on such a course load --- and at UBA you are supposed to take two of those at a time.

Thus, Computer Science has a tendency to look less and less like anything Science. So much so, that there have been talks about getting it renamed to Software Engineering. I would agree with such a move on the grounds that it would be an intention revealing name for what we currently have.

On a personal side note, however, it concerns me that most of the students are becoming part time. These are the people that will have the responsibility to make tough decisions in the future. As a society we're shortchanging them directly, and all of ourselves indirectly, by setting up things so that getting a top notch education is more and more difficult, more and more elitist money-wise, and because of that less and less open. Hopefully we will figure it out before we put ourselves in too much of a hole.

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