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Why Do We Compete?

Each institution of higher education has its basic graduation requirements. They include a C average, and also usually include certain basic subjects all must take. The low-C students find the competition for a college C very keen. It may surprise many to learn that about 21% of the grades given in basic subjects are D’s and F’s (Figs. 2 and 3) They may have the opportunity to retake, at added cost, a few courses to earn a C, but eventually they are weeded out if they fail to improve.

Figure 3 shows an idealized normal grade distribution curve which, of course, seldom occurs. In practical cases, the curve may be flattened, it may be skewed so that its high point is to the right or left of center, or it may be bi-model (two peaks). The shape would vary with the composition of the group taking the exam, with the exam itself, and with the amount of preparation and experience the class has had with this particular exam material. There is a commonly held belief that by depending upon this curve, a student might be able to loaf along and still pass. However a great many students do not realize that the cutoff lines between grades are sharp and not subject to appeal, and that a well-prepared class will shove the over-relaxed students down to a lower grade than anticipated. It is common to find 20-25 9? D’s and F’s in basic courses at high-standard schools, if admission policies are not strict.

Fig. 3. Normal grade distribution curve

“Why don’t the authorities allow students to take only the courses which they like and are good in so that they can maintain a C average?” A logical question, but the answer is equally logical:

Every institution has a faculty and a policy of excellence enforced by that faculty so that the institution’s reputation remains high. If a student were allowed to stay in only one field, he would be a weak student in general knowledge. Also it is desirable to eliminate weak students before they clutter up advanced courses, regardless of the field. There is also strong evidence that a student who is poor in the basic subjects will also be poor in the tougher, upper levels of what he chooses as his specialty, and he will flunk out eventually anyway. Faculty members’ time and educational facilities generally are in short supply so that anything which can help the better students get ahead is considered beneficial to the institution’s reputation and to society as a whole.

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