College is supposed to open students up to new experiences and ideas, and it is supposed to teach students to think deeper and more critically on a wide variety of subjects. Bus it the modern academy failing at this job?
An analysis by The Wall Street Journal suggests as much. The Journal took a look at the results of the College Learning Assessment Plus test, “a critical-thinking test given annually to freshmen and seniors from about 200 U.S. colleges.” The test has students use a variety of resources to answer questions that demonstrate skills that apply both in and out of the classroom.
“The Journal found that at about half of schools, large groups of seniors scored at basic or below-basic levels,” according to Newsweek. For many of these seniors, this means that “they can generally read documents and communicate to readers but can’t make a cohesive argument or interpret evidence.”
This was the case even at “high-profile colleges” such as California State University, where over a third of seniors had “below-basic skills.”
A 2011 book called Academically Adrift: Learning on College Campuses made waves years ago when it used CLA+ data to claim that 36 percent of students didn’t show any big improvement in learning after four years of college. A Pew Research Center study from that same year found that 57 percent of Americans thought the higher education system wasn’t a good value, and 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average student spends only 3.5 hours every day on educational activities.
These conclusions and others may draw attention because of the rising cost of college.
The College Board recently estimated the average cost of tuition and fees at a public, four-year college during the 2016-2017 academic year to be $9,650 for in-state students. Private four-year colleges were even more expensive, costing about $33,480 before room and board.
A decade ago, tuition and fees cost about $6,860 at in-state public, four-year colleges and about $26,380 at private, four-year colleges when adjusted for inflation.