Thursday, February 22, 2018

Admissions reform as a remedy for Trinity’s troubles

EVAN SCOLLARD ’17

STAFF WRITER

Trinity’s notable draw – her economics department – poses a significant threat regarding its popularity as a major.   Those aspiring for admission to the NESCAC know to come here to prepare for a career in banking, finance, or wealth management.

But with so many coming here for the well-regarded degree, students routinely eschew other areas of study.

Rather than face disproportionate major enrollment, the department culls its students with stringent passing requirements and ungodly course-loads.   The C+ failing grade weeds out the students that the pace does not, sending them, in both instances, to subjects they never intended to study and in which they have no interest.

Many students at Trinity College feel strongly that the department actively works against them to artificially keep the numbers low.

How can we expect anyone to learn effectively from a survival exercise, as they combat impossible standards to maintain their spot in the major?   

This method of instruction may mimic the demands of a financial career, but certainly can’t offer the same learning potential as a traditional education focusing on students instead of elimination.   

We have to shift, then, towards the Socratic and participatory styles that categorize the rest of liberal arts pedagogy.

But then we’d run the same risk of over-enrollment that inspired the harsh departmental standards in the first place, and must find another preventative mechanism– an external one.   

Perhaps it’s time we consider separating the admissions processes to mitigate the issue outside the classroom.

Consider a two-tiered process where students apply either to the Trinity College School of Arts and Sciences or the Trinity College School of Economics.   We could even just require direct application to the economics program.  In both cases, we alleviate the department’s concern for overcrowding and consequently their need for such unreasonable passing qualifications.

Of course, the department would not be expected to drop their high standards.  On the contrary, a student body who have already demonstrated their aptitude for the subject during admissions would allow the professors to teach at a quicker pace.

Without having to structure the major to push out the unqualified in the first year, they could rely increasingly on seminar-instruction.

Students would no longer arrive ‘neath the elms to study economics only to fail immediately out and go unhappily to some other subject.

The liberal arts professors wouldn’t have to worry about being a back-up plan, or feel overshadowed by the Economics Department’s popularity.   

Other schools have similarly parsed out their admissions processes to restrain major populations, like  Boston College’s undergraduate School of Business or Standford’s engineering department.

These examples reassure us as we consider following suit, and also offer some practical wisdom from their experience.

We see, for instance, that we must totally separate the tracks so that students cannot apply to one department just to transfer into the other later on.   

To prevent the segregation that would naturally follow, the College has to unite the entire student body in other shared experiences.

To some degree, we already have some opportunities for common endeavor in place, in sports, clubs, Greek life, and housing.  If anything, we’d charge the school to reimagine the social climate in a manner we’ve already been asking for.

What, though, of economics majors who’d like to double major?  We could easily side-step the issue by simply allowing them to pick up another subject once they’ve already been admitted to the Department of Economics department.  We could stipulate that they must indicate their intent to double major in their initial application, apply for school approval once here, or consider such instances individually by department.  The myriad solutions eliminate the issue as a serious contention.   

We theoretically run a much greater risk of isolating our already prestigious economics program above the arts and sciences, essentially dwarfing them in recognition.

But we have not seen this in those other universities.  I would argue that no one would disparage any program associated with another very proclaimed one, but find the point to be moot.

Our liberal arts and our science programs rest easily on their own prestige.

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