I read about this book in USA Today and The Chronicle of Higher Education, and it sounds outstanding — and sobering. It is largely a presentation of extensive research done on “how much 2,300 statistically representative undergraduates—who enrolled as freshmen in a diverse group of 24 colleges and universities in 2005—had learned by the time they (in theory) were ready to graduate, in 2009.” As a measuring tool, they used the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test that gauges students’ critical thinking, analytic reasoning and writing skills. Their findings?
* After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.
* Students spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago.
* 35% of students report spending five or fewer hours per week studying alone.
* 50% said they never took a class in a typical semester where they wrote more than 20 pages; 32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.
It’s not all bad news. As Kevin Carey reports:
After controlling for demographics, parental education, SAT scores, and myriad other factors, students who were assigned more books to read and more papers to write learned more. Students who spent more hours studying alone learned more. Students taught by approachable faculty who enforced high expectations learned more. “What students do in higher education matters,” the authors note. “But what faculty members do matters too.”
Another piece of good news is that who learned the most came from a variety of academic backgrounds. Read the whole thing.
Note: As my book makes clear, I’m not advocating for endless solitary, nose-grinding work without play. David Brooks’ op-ed piece has a point. I just wonder if we insufficiently value the fundamental development of critical thinking and higher order cognitive skills. It can be both-and, not an either-or.