Letters

Scholarships Aren't Just for the Needy

In "Wrong Sort of Student Aid" (May 19) the author's plea to "well-off parents" not to accept merit aid or discounted college tuition suffers from collegiate tunnel vision.

While I too lament recent rulings on affirmative action, I have no patience with college administrators who bemoan the opportunity for parents to get a break on tuition. The author fails to ask the key question: Why are colleges creating complex pricing policies?

The answer is easy. Colleges have repeatedly raised their tuitions far in excess of the Consumer Price Index in the 1980s and '90s. As a result of this shortsighted policy, many private colleges find themselves short of full paying equivalents (FPEs), and are forced to offer discounts (frequently disguised as merit scholarships). The author, however, shifts the responsibility for reversing this trend from the colleges - who should exercise fiscal restraint - to the parents - who are beginning to doubt the value added of some expensive private colleges. Please!

C.Thomas Kaesemeyer

Englewood, Colo.

I fail to see why the issue of need-based versus merit-based financial aid is so controversial. No one is denying merit-based financial aid to poor people. If these students want aid, they can work hard, study hard, take challenging classes, and get good grades.

If we really want to continue need-based aid programs, though, we need to recognize them for what they are - welfare. Do we really want to pay $30,000 or more a year per student to send students to Harvard, Stanford, or MIT? I think not. Education at elite institutions is not a luxury that we can reasonably ask taxpayers to subsidize.

Once students graduate, no one will offer them a better paying job because their "need" is greater. The attitude that "I should get it because my need is greater" is a symptom of a key societal problem. We have evolved into a society that thinks everyone owes us something. It is time for a change.

Craig Reynolds

Seattle

Distance learning an oxymoron?

The essay on teaching classes over the Internet, "As 'Distance Learning' Takes Off, US Lags Behind" (May 19), offers some interesting points. But it also misses equally important ones. I have taught both distance-learning classes (on interactive TV) and face-to-face classes, and I believe the effectiveness of distance learning largely depends on what is being taught. Introductory classes and classes that emphasize learning facts are best fitted for distance learning. Subjects that stress interaction, and advanced classes that require individual attention, are poorly fitted.

Acknowledging that some classes are not suited to distance learning, and dealing with the issues that distance learning handles so poorly, are steps that must be taken if students are to learn well using distance learning. If they are not, distance learning will be one more fad that fades away as soon as people realize it does not provide what it promises.

W. Corry Larson

Cleveland, Miss.

The author paints a vexing picture of American professors. Far from being "hesitant to embrace the new educational technology," we have made the reasoned judgment that "distance learning" is an oxymoron. Like so many of my colleagues, I am eagerly working the Internet and other new technologies into my courses.

I also follow research on effective physics teaching, and the consensus is that students must discuss lab exercises and work on problems in groups. That is, they need an experience as unlike distance learning as possible. Mere information is useless without interpretation through discussion.

Clicking on paintings will never amount to an art history education, and college is more than high-tech correspondence school. The Internet is a resource which, wisely used, can enrich classroom discussions. But this is not the same as throwing silicon at students.

Christopher Magri

Farmington, Maine

University of Maine physics professor

Letters must include your mailing address. Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to OPED@CSPS.COM.

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