"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Friday, January 21, 2011

File This Under "Things We Already Knew"

Alarming results from an academic study of how well academia educates young Americans:
Nearly half of the nation's undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don't make academics a priority, a new report shows.
Instructors tend to be more focused on their own faculty research than teaching younger students, who in turn are more tuned in to their social lives, according to the report, based on a book titled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Findings are based on transcripts and surveys of more than 3,000 full-time traditional-age students on 29 campuses nationwide, along with their results on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test that gauges students' critical thinking, analytic reasoning and writing skills.

After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.

Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.

"These are really kind of shocking, disturbing numbers," says New York University professor Richard Arum, lead author of the book, published by the University of Chicago Press.

He noted that students in the study, on average, earned a 3.2 grade-point average. "Students are able to navigate through the system quite well with little effort," Arum said.
This blogger puts it a lot more bluntly:
The next financial bubble is out there. It is comprised of people like your son who are carrying enormous debt without any prospect of paying it off. They are going to default.... But don’t worry. The system won’t change, not even after the defaults. There are too many vested interests that benefit from the system. Colleges are labor-intensive operations. They employ lots of people at all sorts of levels. In economic downturns, they expand their physical plants. And besides, parents want to see degrees, not failures. Students want the campus experience. Everyone needs to believe the myth, and we are as good as Elmer Gantry at selling it.
We continue to drain the intellectual capital of the rest of the world. That enables us to compensate for the abundance of people we produce who are without academic or economic skills. When the defaults come, we will print more money and maybe foreclose on a few for-profit institutions. There will be congressional hearings, a few scapegoats from the for-profit world, and a few horror stories about exploitative student loans. There will be an academic Enron and an academic Countrywide. When the smoke clears, the academic AIG will have bailed out the academic Goldman Sachs for one hundred cents on the dollar. And it will be business as usual.
Scorching stuff, and it's all true.  There are far too many people employed in the college education industry, whose livelihood depends on advertising and selling America a product that doesn't work and that we don't need.   But the bubble is going to burst soon, and it's not going to be pretty. 

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