By Aja Storm Kennedy
In her article “Why Johnny Can’t Write, and Why Employers Are Mad,”Kelley Holland discusses employers’ increasing frustration with the number of college students who are unable to clearly and effectively communicate their ideas through writing. While some experts blame text messaging and social media for this phenomenon, others believe that colleges and universities are at fault for failing to stress the importance of writing and communication in their curriculums.
As University of Mexico Professor Matthew Teorey outlined in his study concerning students’ knowledge of grammar, freshman composition–the only instructive writing course most college students are required to take–often fails to properly prepare students with necessary writing skills because many professor’s teach under the misguided assumption that freshman students have already been exposed to standard writing conventions in high school. Consequently, these freshmen possess only a temporary understanding of basic writing conventions which they fail to maintain by their senior year. The result is a graduating class whose poorly organized and grammatically incorrect writing samples and graduate school application essays are swiftly rejected by unimpressed employers and academic officials.
Universities must take the initiative in finding an effective resolution to this problem as an essential defense of the quality of the advanced education they are paid to provide. One possible solution is the implementation of a required, senior-level complement to freshmen composition.
As previously mentioned, freshman composition courses alone are inadequate in helping students retain knowledge of proper writing skills between their first introduction to college writing and their attempt to use those skills to enter graduate school and/or the workforce. Howard University Writing Center Director William Harrell stated:
“It is quite common for seniors to need extensive help in preparing cover letters and essays for post-graduate jobs and experiences [because] the skills they learn in introductory English and writing courses are not reinforced during the rest of their time in college. By the time they are seniors, many of them haven’t written extensively for some time, so they have forgotten some of the basics of grammar and even organization.”
Leigh Ryan noticed a similar trend in University of Maryland, College Park’s Writing Center where she also serves as director. She stated that the issues her tutors witness in the writing of both freshmen and seniors are “largely the same – they need to consider their audience, content, organization, evidence, sentence structure, word choice, and grammar.” The fact that freshmen and senior students are the most common writing center clients clearly reveals the gradual regression of writing skills many college students experience, but also the awareness that undergraduate seniors have of this regression and their desire to have it improved.
Scheduling appointments with writing center tutors is certainly helpful; however, having a weekly class time dedicated to reviewing important grammar and style conventions, improving upon writing skills, and learning how to write in a professional setting is far more beneficial. Many universities already offer technical and professional writing courses as an elective, but very few make them a graduation requirement.
While it is easy to see why colleges might find it impractical to require students to take a semester of an instructive English class every year–due to both financial reasons and the four year time constraint–requiring students to reacquaint themselves with previously learned writing concepts and techniques as seniors is essential to preparing them for postgraduate study and professional employment.
With adequate funding and proper instruction, a “senior comp” course would certainly strengthen students’ writing skills and turn them into prospective grad students, interns, and employees who meet the necessary qualifications in writing and communication, and that is a goal that every college and university should willingly strive to meet.
Aja Storm Kennedy is a junior at Howard University majoring in English and minoring in sociology. Howard University is home to the Gamma of The District of Columbia Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.