Whenever someone releases a study criticizing the education system in America, it seems as though the media, politicians and parents all tend to overreact. Are college students lazier? Should the government step in and reform the system? Is my child partying too much instead of studying?
While these questions may be legitimate, the most recent study that has dominated headlines and conversations among college administrators may not be so valid, at least within the confines of Foggy Bottom.
According to a study in the book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” by sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia, college students are not learning enough.
The study looked at more than 2,300 undergraduates and found that even after their sophomore years, 45 percent of students showed no significant improvement in the areas of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing.
It also noted that half of those surveyed 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 40 pages of reading per week.
It is understandable that after this type of study reaches the public eye, the public will, to put it oh-so-eloquently, freak out. The global market is extremely competitive, and it is widely accepted in American culture that a college degree is the key to success. This study calls that belief into question.
Though the conductors of the study may have looked at many institutions and gathered information from a wide-ranging group of students, the study is almost too general for our own University to take seriously. Even a University-wide examination of how effective the curriculum is will not be enough to gauge whether or not Colonials are prepared for the job market.
Instead, the more specific the studies are, the more they will tell us about GW students. The effectiveness of course loads varies across the spectrum of individual majors. To have a truly solid understanding of whether students acquire these skills, the University needs to narrow the studies.
For example, the University requires that all freshmen take a University Writing course so as to give them an introduction into writing and researching in college. Most of these courses require that students write multiple pages within the topic the UW covers, and students generally develop a better understanding of what constitutes a strong collegiate paper.
But whether or not students develop critical thinking skills, reasoning skills and writing skills largely rests on the courses, the professors and the students within majors or concentrations.
The highly publicized study says that students in college do not learn enough of these important skills. But the better question that the study should have addressed, and that colleges should now work to address, is whether or not students are actually learning the skills they will need for their particular career paths. Yes, critical thinking, reasoning and writing are important to a college education. But a political science major should develop critical thinking when talking about solving global issues. He or she should develop reasoning when exploring models that could benefit the most citizens of a nation. He or she should develop writing skills when writing a memo or brief about funding for a particular project. And if GW is actually providing the education necessary for students to succeed, students will do all of these things in class.
The higher education system in the United States is constantly under scrutiny. So when a somewhat negative study highlights the overall flaws of the system, the public reacts in a somewhat negative way. But the only thing our own administration, and our parents, should take from this study is the need to look at how prepared students actually are for the workforce. If this study prompts individual institutions to step back and examine how effective their curricula are, then it will have the right impact on higher education. But until then, it is merely fodder for the media to report that college students aren’t learning enough. And who wouldn’t read that story?
Lyndsey Wajert, a junior majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.