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Cause And Effect In The Undergraduate Education Crisis

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.96.1 - 2.96.7

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Ray N. Nitzsche

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2330

Cause and Effect in the Undergraduate Education Crisis Ray N. Nitzsche Parks College of Saint Louis University


This paper addresses the cause and effect relationship between the current emphasis on research and many of the present problems in undergraduate engineering education.

The Cause

We have all heard so much lately about "the crisis in undergraduate education," "the problem with undergraduate education," or, more formally stated, the need to "reaffirm the undergraduate experience and rediscover the essentialness of teaching."1 We hear of poorly equipped graduates, student retention problems,2 poor student advising,3 etc. These are effects. There has been a great deal of fingerpointing, and a number of solutions to each of the specific problems have been proposed. That is, a number of separate and specific causes have been proposed. Actually, graduate level education has some of the same deficiencies; however, due to the difference in the nature of graduate and undergraduate education, especially at the doctoral level, the effects are not as severe and thus are not as evident.

What has gone wrong? What is the cause? Is it one thing or several? Well, I think I know what one very significant cause is. A significant cause is research, or let's call it the overemphasis on research. By research I mean the sort of research, usually "cutting edge" research, which gains one grants, publications, and promotions at today's universities. In addition, I use the word research as a collective term because, of course, it's not the research itself, the dictionary definition, which is the problem. Research is necessary and good. It's what research does to attract the wrong type of people to universities, to negatively affect the activities of those at universities, to negatively affect the focus of administrators at universities, etc. In fact, research has caused us to lose sight of our basic function. We have drifted away from our real purpose. We have moved away from what we are best equipped to do and what we do best.

I'm sure my idea is not unique. In fact, there are probably a large number of people who would agree. In addition, I'm sure many of the ideas and observations I present in what follows have occurred to many others. Some can be found in recent publications. My only addition may be that I have collected and organized the various ideas and observations and have added some logic to the thought in this area.

Signs That Research Is Overemphasized

Before we investigate this cause and its effects, let's look at some of the signs, some proof, that research has indeed become overemphasized. I offer the following list. As you read this list, note how many of the present conditions or methods of operation at our universities did not exist or had much less importance some years ago but toward which we have drifted, to the extent that they now are the accepted mode of operation. We usually no longer question their validity or necessity; furthermore, we no longer consider their effects upon ourselves and our students.

Nitzsche, R. N. (1997, June), Cause And Effect In The Undergraduate Education Crisis Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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