G is for Gateway Courses: Why Must We Weed Out?


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I find Gateway Courses to be very strange things.

When I say Gateway Courses, I mean the introductory course in a major (or other academic program at a college or university) that is designed to “weed out the weak” and only allow those already well versed and earning high grades to move on to the next course and actually venture into the major.

I find this strange on a number of levels.

First, because this is an introductory course, it confuses me that it’s not designed to be an introduction to concepts and a primer for what’s to come.  It should be a course that’s accessible to all, because this is how you can attract more students.

Second, because it’s designed to turn away the majority of students.  Why on earth would you want to discourage students from entering your program?  More students usually means more funding for more faculty, more programs, more labs or facilities or equipment.  More students is a good thing, so why try to turn them away with an insanely difficult course that only the elite are prepared for?

Third, this is most common in STEM programs that are all struggling to attract underrepresented groups to their majors.  Why would you not want to be as encouraging and welcoming as you possibly could in your introduction courses to further this goal?

Fourth, colleges and universities are designed to educate.  Why would you have a course that has a goal other than educating the most students possible?  Having a course that is designed to be difficult and be a barrier to student learning is completely counter intuitive to the process.

Basically, I disagree with everything about a Gateway Course, and I feel like they are a cruel thing to inflict on any student, let alone one who might be underserved because of their background or socioeconomic class or any other of a number of identities that make them educationally vulnerable.

Have you encountered a gateway course in your educational career?  What kind of class was it?  Did you pass through it?  Or did you end up changing major or focus because of the course?


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