Joshua Hock: “University Writing” off students as unprepared

Time is of economic consequence; though normally understood, this fact has gone ignored by some of GW’s loftier officials.

Specifically, the blunder is evident in misguided policies requiring all students to take a course in an ambiguously titled “University Writing Program.” Students, usually in their freshman year, earn four credit hours for their conscripted participation in UW20 classes. The fiscal value of those classes approaches $4000.

Students of course pay the sum through GW’s record-setting tuition, which is supposed to buy them an education. Sadly though, it seems that all we are buying is a shorter week – three hours and 20 minutes shorter to be exact.

That is the amount of time the mandatory UW20 classes steal from each freshman for a semester.

Begun in 2002, the UW Program and its classes are supposed to help students begin writing at a “college-level.” The program’s Web site explains that it “is designed to promote scholarship and critical thinking.”

The UW Program was likely created in response to several media observations noting that students have been arriving at post-secondary schools unprepared. For example, a 2005 article by M. B. Marklein of USA Today discloses several statistics suggesting many college freshmen will need remediation for academic success.

Though well-intentioned, the policy mandating participation in the UW Program makes an expensive error by ignoring the fact that the number of unprepared students is usually reported as only 50-60 percent of an incoming class. Regarding written compositions alone, Marklein reports that 68 percent of freshmen are expected to perform well.

While the undeveloped 32 percent still poses a problem that must be addressed, it should not be presumed that all students have not expanded their writing abilities to include forms beyond high school’s rigid “five-paragraph essay.”

Even the University acknowledges that some students possess adequate writing ability, but still are forced into the quickly-filled UW classes. Apparently, even these competent writers require “more guidance when confronted with more complex treatment of [an essay].”

Any “additional guidance” should be available through GW’s more than two thousand professors, who every semester provide students with wisdom to explore complexities in written form. One cannot assume that any school’s entire freshmen class lacks the ability to write at an advanced level, especially when high schools are littered with Advanced Placement programs and other increasingly challenging programs.

For those who have not developed writing skills comparable to that of their peers, the UW classes should remain available and possibly even mandatory, but the University must give students an opportunity to demonstrate that they are prepared to write in a manner expected by professors. After all, students are able to test out of some math courses despite USA Today’s report that only 41 percent of incoming college students are expected to succeed in college algebra. Similarly, GW should let students “write out” of UW20 with papers written outside a course and evaluated by UW professors.

There is certainly a need for UW, but there is no need to waste the time of already capable collegiate writers.

The writer is a freshman majoring in economics and history.

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