By Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education
According to a New York Times article (“The Economic Price of Colleges’ Failures,” 2 Sep. 2014), our colleges and universities are doing a terrible job of educating our youth. The conclusions are academic dynamite.
The article, by Kevin Carey, depends on two books by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa: Academically Adrift (Jan. 2011) and Aspiring Adults Adrift (Sep. 2014). According to Carey, Arum and Roksa lean heavily on a test of critical thinking and other skills known as the “Collegiate Learning Assessment” (CLA). For this reason, conclusions depend on the value of this particular test instrument, which some have called into question.
Even if the CLA is flawed, it cannot be totally inaccurate, and the findings should indicate a general direction. According to the article, students who graduated from college “improved less than half of one standard deviation” in the test.
All of that time and all of that money resulted in little benefit to the students. Interestingly, the students themselves did not see it that way. They thought they received a good education. The problem, as the second book pointed out, is that the job market does not agree with their self-assessment. According to Carey, “Because they didn’t acquire vital critical thinking skills, they’re less likely to get a job and more likely to lose the jobs they get than students who received a good education.”
Reading between the lines, some colleges still provide a good education, but a great number do not. Note the emphasis on critical thinking skills that stand in strong contrast to the memory skills that so many courses support. The CLA claims to test critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and communications. Continue reading