Opinion-Policy Nexus

That is the headline of a recent op-ed by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail.

I rarely agree with Wente's columns, (although I do appreciate the need for her perspective to spark debate and dialogue in society), but her most recent column on rising stress levels among university students contained a lot of arguments that I agreed with.

There's no question that universities need to take seriously the trend of rising levels of student anxiety and stress.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the trick is to figure out what is causing the rising levels of stress so that universities can implement the right (read: "effective") policies to successfully address the issue.

But I also think it's important to remember that universities are supposed to be stressful places! 

Universities are not only places of knowledge creation and higher learning about new ideas and old debates, they are also places that require students to develop and use independence and time-management skills to facilitate their own learning and contributions to knowledge creation.

Indeed, as Ken Coates has argued, the university degree used to be a highly sought after form of accreditation.  Employers wanted university graduates because the university degree was a credible signal that the potential employee actually had a number of important skills, including critical thinking, time management, and independence.  Today, that credible signal no longer exists.  Many students get through their program without these skills and employers no longer can bank on a potential employee having the necessary skills they need.

All of this is to say that there is no question that universities need to provide a variety of support services to students to help them cope with mental stress.  On the other hand, universities need to resist any proposals that would require professors to reduce their expectations of the students, including opposing suggestions that they need to reduce the number of readings, essays and tests that they assign.



Right on, Dr. Alcantara; I have to agree. Not only do difficult studies and situations provide value to student education, but as you clearly expressed, lowering expectations devalues the force and effect of the credential itself. I have a hard enough time with "credential inflation"; I wouldn't want my granting institution to undermine the very value and merit of my hard-earned degrees by lowering the bar for those who come after me. Keep those standards high!


Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 14:22