"Look to the left. Look to the right. One of you will not be here at the end of the semester." That is the urban legend about the hard old professor who warns students on the first day of class that many will fail.
However, with the start of this spring semester, some Kansas professors could tell their freshman classes: "Look to the left. Look to the right. Oh, there is no one sitting in one of those seats. They are on the class roster. But they aren’t here."
At Kansas universities, some students enroll but don’t come to classes very often — sometimes not at all.
The serious university student should be concerned. Students who don't show up soak up state tuition support. Kansas is a state with limited resources. Students who do not attend class waste money that could support the genuinely hard-working college students of Kansas.
Today, for every dollar a student pays in tuition at a public university, Kansas is putting in 92 cents to support the instructional costs.
In the 1980s, barely 40 percent of Kansas high school graduates went to college. Kansas paid about two dollars for every dollar in student tuition. Today, nearly three-fourths of Kansas high school graduates go to tertiary institutions. If you nearly double the students going to school, then the state support per student will be roughly cut in half.
Tuition at public universities has risen over the last two decades for many reasons. But that empty seat in classrooms is one part of that problem. Whether they received their high school diploma based on inflated grades, or have failed to develop the work ethic to show up, they are not "college-able."
University professors who teach freshman courses can help solve this problem. In most schools, there is provision for "faculty-initiated student withdrawal." Simply, don't show up and the professor can drop you from class. Unfortunately, this authority is rarely used.
Some teachers may object that it is not their responsibility to take attendance and treat college students like they are still in high school. But if professors "wash" absentee students from their rosters, the state subsidy could be a little greater for remaining good students.
But with state universities being pushed to increase their admission, retention and graduation rates, the "system" is working against responsible higher education. In some cases, weak students are advised into easy courses just to keep students in school to keep retention rate high.
This simple-minded drive to send every high school graduate to college ignores the fact that some students are better served in technical school, a point that President Obama just emphasized in his State of the Union address. And some students just need some time out in the real world to grow up and get serious about life.
When a Kansas college student graduates and walks across that stage to receive his or her diploma, if professors have not culled the college-unable and succumb to the retain-everyone push, that Kansas student will find the degree they earned by hard work has less meaning when the next student to cross the stage receives the same degree when they did half the work and showed up half the time.