06 February 2011

Higher Education: Is Either Term Accurate?

A recent publication of University of Chicago Press posits serious flaws in the tertiary education practice widespread among universities in the U.S., according to a January 18 article in Inside Higher Ed. Tests geared to measure increases in 'critical thinking, analytic reasoning and other "higher level" skills' yielded results deemed 'not encouraging'. These tests found almost half of students showed no significant improvement for the first two years of post-secondary education, while more than a third showed similar lack of improvement for their entire four-year program.

Considering the financial outlay for most students in baccalaureate programs, I would say that 'not encouraging' hardly fits as a descriptor. I'm trying to think of a suitable term for this finding, but I am caught between the need to be accurate to the situation and the code I follow not to use profanity in this blog. The study found certain elements in this educational inadequacy that bear consideration.

First, the study showed that almost a third of students avoid courses requiring more than 40 pages of reading per week. In addition, only half of students take any courses in their programs at all where more than 20 pages of writing is required. Current estimates at the institutions surveyed indicate that students spend only about 12-14 hours per week studying.

In addition, the study noted students in liberal arts majors showed a greater gain in the tested skill areas than students in other programs. The authors readily point out that causal factors for this difference are as likely to be the amounts of reading and writing required by the majority of courses in liberal arts as they are the content areas of the disciplines.

While much further investigation is needed, it would seem to be a reasonable response that students and administrators in post-secondary programs, as well as alumni of institutions should call on teachers to equip students to read and write more in their courses. Perhaps also, teachers and other instructional personnel should consider this study as a moral imperative to respond to the situation as the crisis it in fact is.

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