Study raises questions on the value of a college education (U.S.)

Chemistry major?

Studying alone, reading and writing more, are helpful

A new study provides disturbing answers to questions about how much students actually learn in college — for many, not much — and has inflamed a debate about the value of an American higher education.

The research of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.

One problem is that students just aren’t asked to do much, according to findings in a new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.” Half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week…

The study, an unusually large-scale effort to track student learning over time, comes as the federal government, reformers and others argue that the U.S. must produce more college graduates to remain competitive globally. But if students aren’t learning much that calls into question whether boosting graduation rates will provide that edge.

I’ve been arguing for a long time that graduation rates, in and of themselves, are meaningless.

Students who studied alone, read and wrote more, attended more selective schools and majored in traditional arts and sciences majors posted greater learning gains.

No surprises here, especially regarding the nonsense that somehow working in groups will magically improve student performance.

Social engagement generally does not help student performance. Students who spent more time studying with peers showed diminishing growth….

Read it all, and see if anything surprises you.

The field of education is full of texts from new faces on the proper way to teach– always some idea that has somehow escaped the imagination of lesser mortals. And there is always some fool ready to buy a couple cases to hand out as required reading for his teaching staff.

4 thoughts on “Study raises questions on the value of a college education (U.S.)

  1. Mr. Fusion says:

    I have long held that education is geared to a set idea. Very few projects are allowed outside the mainstream and they usually fail from a lack of money.

    In any class, there are those who thrive. Maybe 1/3 the class. Another 1/3, make do. And 1/3 don’t make it and either limp along or fail. We coddle the first third, tell the middle third to work harder, and tell the bottom third they are the authors of their own misfortune, they are lazy, they don’t apply themselves, etc.

    As anyone with any intelligence knows, people are NOT cookie cutter psychologically made. Children are as diverse mentally as imaginable. Success should be quantified by how many pages they wrote or read that week. Nor should they be taught in such a mode.

    I don’t have the solution. But I do know that so far the proffered solutions still treat everyone the same and that just won’t bring out the best in everyone.

    • Mr. Fusion says:


      In my own dyslectic, undereducated, retarded, child left behind styled manner; the sentence in the third paragraph should read:

      “Success should NOT be quantified by how many pages they wrote or read that week.”

      My apologies to all for the confusion.

  2. moss says:

    My subjective response? As a kid in elementary school, average class size was 33-35 pupils per class. Factory town with the lowest-paid teachers in the stae. They all cared and were dedicated to getting enough basics into our heads to just maybe do better than our immigrant/1st-gen American parents. And they succeeded.

    High school was similar.

    Night school/college offered a new and tasty range of subjects – and with few exceptions, everything I learned came from reading – with and without useful guidance from my professors.

    I also spent a number of years in the sort of study groups most would associate with graduate law studies. These were dedicated to philosophy, political strategy and tactics. Most of that time spent under the tutelage of an experienced, over-qualified (and very Socratic) discussion leader. A successful and very satisfying experience.

    Given the freedom of style and curricula, my experience tells me the educator is key. But, all those circumstances were grounded in classic basics – and no spooky theory du jour. This all happened before the predominance of education as childish whim. Your parents expected you to learn. Teachers expected you to learn basics and acquire reading skills sufficient to aid you to study and learn further if you were so inclined.

    All within school systems with proportionately smaller budgets than are typical today – but open to all. I guess I’m saying substance with guidance trumps style. Unless style manages to get in the way altogether.

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