Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Institutions of Higher...Learning?

So, I was reading an AP newsstory today about a new study coming out indicating that colleges really don't teach students anything. According to the report, having tested students across the country when they entered college and two years later as sophomores, they found that there was no increase in critical thinking skills, complex reasoning, or writing.

Well, the writing aspect worries me a little bit because writing should be a part of every class regardless of subject area. But, according to the report, most of these students didn't have a single class that required 20 pages of writing (I understood that as a total amount, not a final paper), or 40 pages of reading per week. Now, I'm not expecting copious amounts of writing in many classes other than maybe English and history, nor do I think there will probably be much in classes like chemistry that are focusing more on the calculations/formulas. But, come on. Twenty pages?  That's less than a page-and-a-half per week. For any. One. Class.

However, the lack of increased critical thinking or complex reasoning doesn't really worry me much. And here's why: for the most part, the first two years of college are filled with general education classes. That means they are geared for the masses to give a broad-based knowledge. I'm the first to admit that there were some classes I took just because I had to, and I didn't really learn anything from them. Mostly a waste of time (and money), really, but I had to have that little letter listed on my transcript in order to get my degree.  So the study's testing results coming from the end of the sophomore year I think automatically skews results.

In other words, these students are not going to have themselves pushed or stretched until they reach the upper division classes, usually in the junior and senior years. So no surprise that these skills did not increase in the study. And me personally, I don't know that I "gained" any critical thinking skills in college; I think I probably just learned new methods of application for those skills. But maybe I'm the exception rather than the rule.

So what do you think? Are our colleges and universities failing our students? Or do you think they are doing an adequate job? Is the study flawed, or does it have something to tell us?