Students are not doing as well in college mathematics as they used to, and there are many theories as to why that is the case. Some of the culprits are
1. Bad teaching. I don’t think this is the case, I think teaching has improved, although I discussed one reason there may have been better teachers in the past in a previous post. Much has been learned about teaching, and the improvements are visible in the classroom.
2. More students attending college. Only the best and brightest went to college before, now almost everyone goes. Students with money went before, and that says more about their parents then about them. But it is true that many more people go to college than ever before.
3. Students having a sense of entitlement, and a poor work ethic. I see that in many students, and I think this has to be part of the problem.
4. A continual culture of giving students another chance. This relates to the previous reason. This means students are not motivated to take advantage of their first chance and poor students are not flunked out. When looking at overall pass rates for a course, some students are counted three times for flunking.
5. A society with too many distractions, particularly electronic ones, make it so students cannot concentrate. Students are perfectly capable of concentrating on their electronic gadgets, meaning they haven’t lost the ability to concentrate, although they may not be able to translate that to concentrating on something they don’t like.
6. Mathematics is just too hard and some people are not good in it. Math isn’t harder than it used to be. In addition, most people without skill in mathematics can do pretty well, if they work hard enough at it.
There may be other explanations, but too often I read about people who see the symptom and believe they know the cure. I am not sure we can find a cure if we do not know the cause. I don’t claim to know the cause, but I doubt the answer is a simple one.