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Old 01-24-2011, 05:54 AM   #1
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45% Of Students Don't Learn Much In College

"And to think I spent all that money on big colleges,
and still I come out confused..."

45% Of Students Don't Learn Much In College

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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.

That kind of light load sounded familiar to University of Missouri freshman Julia Rheinecker, who said her first semester of college largely duplicated the work she completed back home in southern Illinois.

"I'm not going to lie," she said. "Most of what I learned this year I already had in high school. It was almost easier my first semester (in college)."

Three of the five classes she took at Missouri were in massive lecture halls with several hundred students. And Rheinecker said she was required to complete at least 20 pages of writing in only one of those classes.

"I love the environment, don't get me wrong," she said. "I just haven't found myself pushing as much as I expected."

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.

"It's not the case that giving out more credentials is going to make the U.S. more economically competitive," Richard Arum of New York University, who co-authored the book with Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia, said in an interview. "It requires academic rigor ... You can't just get it through osmosis at these institutions."

The book is based on information from 24 schools, meant to be a representative sample, which provided Collegiate Learning Assessment data on students who took the standardized test in their first semester in fall 2005 and at the end of their sophomore years in spring 2007. The schools took part on the condition that their institutions not be identified.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment has its share of critics who say it doesn't capture learning in specialized majors or isn't a reliable measure of college performance because so many factors are beyond their control.

The research found an average-scoring student in fall 2005 scored seven percentage points higher in spring of 2007 on the assessment. In other words, those who entered college in the 50th percentile would rise to the equivalent of the 57th after their sophomore years.

Among the findings outlined in the book and report, which tracked students through four years of college:

_Overall, the picture doesn't brighten much over four years. After four years, 36 percent of students did not demonstrate significant improvement, compared to 45 percent after two.

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

_Social engagement generally does not help student performance. Students who spent more time studying with peers showed diminishing growth and students who spent more time in the Greek system had decreased rates of learning, while activities such as working off campus, participating in campus clubs and volunteering did not impact learning.

_Students from families with different levels of parental education enter college with different learning levels but learn at about the same rates while attending college. The racial gap between black and white students going in, however, widens: Black students improve their assessment scores at lower levels than whites.

Arum and Roksa spread the blame, pointing to students who don't study much and seek easy courses and a culture at colleges and universities that values research over good teaching.

Yahya Fahimuddin, a sixth-year computer science student at the University of California, Los Angeles, endorsed the latter finding, saying professors do seem more concerned with research. He said he can't remember the last time he wrote a paper longer than three pages, double-spaced. He feels little connection to his professors and gets the sense that mastering material is not as important as the drudge work of meeting goals and getting through material on schedule.

"Honestly, you can get by with Wikipedia and pass just about anything," he said.

Phil Hampton, a UCLA spokesman, said the university offers a rigorous and well-rounded curriculum led by faculty committed to student learning, and pointed to a study that showed high student satisfaction with their experience.

So what to do? The report warns that federally mandated fixes similar to "No Child Left Behind" in K-12 education would be "counterproductive," in part because researchers are still learning how to measure learning. But it does make clear that accountability should be emphasized more at the institutional level, starting with college presidents.

Some colleges and universities are taking steps. The University of Charleston, in West Virginia, has beefed up writing assignments in disciplines such as nursing and biology to improve learning. President Edwin Welch is among more than 70 college and university presidents pledging to take steps to improve student learning, use evidence to improve instruction and publicize results.

"I think we do need more transparency," Welch said. "I think a student at a private institution who might go into debt for $40,000 or $50,000 has the right to know what he can learn at the institution."

Lindsay McCluskey, president of the United States Student Association, said the findings speak to a larger problem in U.S. higher education: universities being run more like corporations than educational institutions, with students viewed as consumers who come for a degree and move on.

"There is less personal attention in the classroom, fewer tenure-track positions, and more classes are being taught by teaching assistants and in some cases undergraduate students," said McCluskey, a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "Obviously, that has an impact on our learning and the experience we get in college."

___

AP staff writer Alan Scher Zagier in Columbia, Mo., contributed information to this report. Gorski reported from Denver.
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Old 01-24-2011, 06:08 AM   #2
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i don't find this very surprising.
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Old 01-24-2011, 07:36 AM   #3
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Oh shit, you mean college is about more than pulling straight Cs with your girlfriends through that psycology BA, going to watch a ton of football games, and throwing up a lot in campus housing backyards?

What do people expect is supposed to come out of the False Entitlement Generation mixed with steady grade inflation?
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Old 01-24-2011, 07:47 AM   #4
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I think there's several reasons at play here.

Here are just a few:

I think a large portion just doesn't value education, they only go to college in order to put it on their resume.

Too many students have no clue what they want to study therefore drift through the first couple of years, taking the easiest courses they can to get by.

If this study includes those that start off in a community college or jr college these numbers are not suprising at all.

How are these things measured? Someone who goes in and studies Engineering, Architecture, or Computer Science are often not going to have to take a class that requires them to write a 20 plus page paper but I guarantee you they graduate with a wealth of knowledge they didn't find in high school.
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Old 01-24-2011, 08:41 AM   #5
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The study was measuring critical-thinking ability beyond knowledge gained in a particular field of study.

College Test Leaves Questions Unanswered - WSJ.com

Putting College Evaluations to the Test - The Numbers Guy - WSJ

Quote:
The test asks students to write analytical essays and also to perform critical-thinking tasks; the latter was the basis for the study. A sample question asks students to place themselves in the role of an advisor to a fictional mayoral candidate and use data and documents to help counter an opposing candidate’s platform. A numbers-savvy test taker might note that the opponent’s claim that expanding the police force would increase crime was specious, because it was based on the argument that counties with more cops have higher crime rates (the higher rates might lead to the hiring of more cops, rather than the other way around).
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“I am concerned that these results are getting abbreviated to ’students aren’t learning in college,’ ” Alexander C. McCormick, director of the National Survey of Student Engagement, wrote in an email. “The real contribution of this study in my view is that we can no longer assume that general education + specialization = assured development of broad analytic reasoning and writing skills.”
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Old 01-24-2011, 09:50 AM   #6
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45%, that's all?
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Old 01-24-2011, 10:27 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by AliEnvy View Post
The study was measuring critical-thinking ability beyond knowledge gained in a particular field of study.

College Test Leaves Questions Unanswered - WSJ.com

Putting College Evaluations to the Test - The Numbers Guy - WSJ
But isn't the purpose of college to gain knowledge in a particular field of study?

Also, I'm not sure why they did this study on sophomores. Nah, I'm not shocked that almost half of them "hadn't learned much" (what does that even mean, that's a terrible phrase to use repetitively).
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Old 01-24-2011, 10:51 AM   #8
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I went to two private colleges (transfer) and I did way more than that in terms of writing and reading. Maybe college is much easier now than it was when I trudged through ten feet of snow to get there....


I studied so much, lived at home, didn't party, and only had a part time job-mostly on weekends during the school year. I understand that college is way more expensive now but it still costs nothing to study rather than party. Part of what you get out of college is what you put into it.
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Old 01-24-2011, 11:23 AM   #9
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you could finish college in two years if it weren't all a giant money grab.

every job has a different level of training. why is it then that we have an arbitrary 4 year number to get a degree? spend 2 years of studying your field, 2 years of on the job training and call it a day. lessen up requirements for degrees for entry level positions and allow those who don't know what they want to study to go right into the job force. set up apprenticeship programs so that people can really learn what they need to know to do the job in the field they want.
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Old 01-24-2011, 11:53 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by MrsSpringsteen View Post
I went to two private colleges (transfer) and I did way more than that in terms of writing and reading. Maybe college is much easier now than it was when I trudged through ten feet of snow to get there....
I went to a private college as well, graduated in '06 and it was MUCH harder than what was described here (but for me not really any harder than high school....but I went to a hard high school.....). 40 pages of reading would be more like the bare minimum per day, per class, and 20 pages of writing would be per assignment/paper. However I did have the experience of the first year or two being very repetitive as one student in the article mentions. I attribute that to the "liberal arts" core curriculum and the high school I attended. It was not repetitive or easy for a lot of people.
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Old 01-24-2011, 12:14 PM   #11
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Part of what you get out of college is what you put into it.
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Old 01-24-2011, 01:03 PM   #12
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But isn't the purpose of college to gain knowledge in a particular field of study?
I really don't think that it is, outside of a select few areas, like for example teaching, architecture and engineering.

For most of the others, I think the purpose is to learn to think critically, which you can then apply to a specialized field (where you'd gain specific knowledge). So that's what grad school, med school, law school, dentistry, etc are for.
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Old 01-24-2011, 01:08 PM   #13
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Im sure 100% learn something, just not necessarily something that can be measured on a piece of paper.
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Old 01-24-2011, 01:29 PM   #14
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Here's the problem... most people end up not using the degree they went to school for in the first place... so then what was the point?
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Old 01-24-2011, 02:36 PM   #15
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Here's the problem... most people end up not using the degree they went to school for in the first place... so then what was the point?


i majored in English. i now make TV. i certainly considered being an English teacher, but the four years i spent at a small liberal arts college where i studied a variety of subjects and learned how to read and write enabled me to graduate and be able to move into any variety of careers. i studied English simply because i thought the courses looked more interesting overall than the courses in the History department, and because American Studies looked a bit too DIY at the time, though, in retrospect, that would have been better.

however, i think this kind of education was a luxury predicated upon not only my parents being able to afford for me to spend four years growing my mind, but also because i have a wide variety of interests and a base level of ability whereby getting into a graduate school, or making a total career change, were/are entirely possible. i do agree that most people who are more career oriented right out of high school -- people who know what they want to be and know what they need to do to get there -- probably wouldn't be as interested or even willing to pay for a liberal arts background and probably would be better served by the model you suggest.

and yet, there's a part of me that would like to think that a dental hygenist might have really loved her Shakespeare courses in college, or that a physical therapist has a bookshelf full of their Philosophy 101 books, and that because our professionals have had a wider exposure to knowledge and because they've been asked to write critically about a subject that isn't directly related to their career earnings, that they're more able to think outside of the box when performing their everyday jobs. and we're all better for that.

as education becomes ever more expensive, it does seem to me that many people would rather learn what they need to know as quickly (and cheaply) as they can, and then let's move on and maybe i'll only be $25K in debt rather than $50K.
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