Sunday, March 6, 2011

Higher Education in Decline

Bob Herbert's Saturday column on higher education is provocative concerning the sinking standards of our colleges and universities:
A provocative new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” makes a strong case that for a large portion of the nation’s seemingly successful undergraduates the years in college barely improve their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing.

Intellectual effort and academic rigor, in the minds of many of the nation’s college students, is becoming increasingly less important. According to the authors, Professors Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia: “Many students come to college not only poorly prepared by prior schooling for highly demanding academic tasks that ideally lie in front of them, but — more troubling still — they enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment.”

Students are hitting the books less and partying more. Easier courses and easier majors have become more and more popular. Perhaps more now than ever, the point of the college experience is to have a good time and walk away with a valuable credential after putting in the least effort possible.

The authors cite empirical work showing that the average amount of time spent studying by college students has dropped by more than 50 percent since the early 1960s. But a lack of academic focus has not had much of an effect on grade point averages or the ability of the undergraduates to obtain their degrees.

Thirty-six percent of the students said they studied alone less than five hours a week. Nevertheless, their transcripts showed a collective grade point average of 3.16. “Their G.P.A.’s are between a B and a B-plus,” said Professor Arum, “which says to me that it’s not the students, really — they share some of the blame — but the colleges and universities have set up a system so that there are ways to navigate through it without taking difficult courses and still get the credential.”
It is still not clear to me that 'college for everyone' can be tied to economic growth and a better standard of living for everyone (as I tried to show in a previous post). What is clear is that a big part of our personal and public debt load is now college loans.

Industrialized society does not require a majority of young people to go to college, and in all reality, it is likely a majority of young people cannot really take advantage of college, due to lack of interest or ability. 

1 comment:

  1. Could you comment on why education, which is the key to the USA maintaining its academic and scientific leadership in the world, is tied to (basically) a corporate mentality (the University or college) in which the student must pay to educate himself for the benefit of those established corporations in our economy. This seems like a backward approach to education and the American Dream. Public education (for those children who weren't needed in the cotton fields) in the early years of our country prepared students to read, write, and do arithmetic. They were only prepared to work in sweat shops and other menial jobs. If corporations want well-trained workers they should set up their own schools and offer a free education for those students wanting to work for them. We need Entrepreneurs for America, and the US should make a college education way more affordable. Who was it that said that small businesses are the economic backbone of our society? How can someone start a business with a student loan bill of $50,000 to $100,000? I'm interested in your take.