- What's wrong with the current crop of undergrad students?
My institution is a rural SLAC that seems unable to attract anyone from the "well above average" demographic. Most of our students have been coddled in high school. They have no idea what it means to study. They haven't the discipline to stick with something they find a little dull unless it is an athletic practice. They don't get (or sympathize with) the link between learning and struggle, because many have never been made to struggle with learning before. On the other hand, most of them can write at a reasonable high-school level. I seldom find students who are execrable writers -- though unfortunately the ones who are are getting passed along in college, just like they were in high school.
- What's wrong with the current state of higher education in America?
There are a number of things that are wrong, though I can't say that I have a good handle on it myself. Things that I see include the expectation that everyone should be in college -- making it an extension of high school. On the other hand, without that expectation I would very likely be jobless since most of the students we attract would be at the bottom of the barrel in a larger or more competitive school. So part of the problem is the fact that we have too many institutions for the population we *should be* serving.
Another part of the problem is the lack of public support for higher education. This takes the obvious form of failure to provide enough public money to support the expectations of the American public for higher ed. It also takes the form of the seemingly prevalent idea that our colleges and universities are there to provide credentials, not to educate. EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.
- What could regular faculty do locally to improve things?
I've got nothing. I uphold standards as well as I can, but I've got tenure. Even so, I will occasionally get called on the carpet when some student or other complains about what a mean meanie-pants I am. If more of my colleagues with tenure would enforce basic standards of writing and research, perhaps my students wouldn't complain so much (or at least they'd complain about somebody else).