By Kim Smiley
Most students go to college hoping it will further their education and allow them better career opportunities upon graduation. But is the investment of time and money required to get a college education worth it?
The cost of college has been rapidly increasing over the last several years. At the same time, many company executives have been noting that today’s students do not graduate college with the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed. A new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia publishes findings of a study that says that students aren’t improving much in the areas of “critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing” during their four years in college.
The study based its results on assessment scores taken by 2,300 students as they entered college, after two years, and after four years. After two years, 45% of students showed insignificant improvement and after four years, 36% showed insignificant improvement. The study also found that very little reading and writing is required in many college courses.
The findings indicate that students aren’t being adequately prepared for their future careers. How do we solve this problem? Similar to engineering problems, a root cause analysis could be performed to help understand and hopefully solve this problem. The more clearly a problem is understood, the easier it is to develop and implement solutions. There are some potential solutions that have been suggested already, but only time will tell if they are successful.
Many institutions of higher learning are working to combat the issue. More than 70 college and university presidents have pledged to take steps to improve instruction and student learning, and make those results public. Hopefully the colleges and universities that have pledged to use evidence-based solutions to improve learning will pave the way for all colleges and universities increasing the critical thinking and writing skills of all college graduates.
There are also a number of things that students can do to improve their own learning. The study found that students who study alone (as opposed to in study groups) are more likely to post gains over college. Additionally, students who choose to read and write more, and attend more selective schools that focus on teaching rather than research tend to improve their critical thinking and writing skills over their years at college.
Everyone should agree that a large percent of students graduating from college showing little or no improvement in critical reasoning and writing skills is not a desirable outcome – i.e. a problem. There are many ways to improve the situation. Some of these solutions must be implemented by the universities themselves, but students can take many actions themselves to increase their learning over their college years.
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