Does College teach students to think?

Most of us spend between $0 to $40,000 a year on tuition.  That does not include textbooks – which are expensive whether or not we rent them – dorm supplies, food, and other social necessities.  After all the hype of packing everything we can think of, battling with elevators, stairs, and carts to move-in, and getting lost on campus a couple of times, we finally settle in as college students.  This process alternates and evolves as we rise up in years, but the same question stands – Is college really worth it? Does college teach us to think critically?

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum is a book that came out last month and was featured in an NPR segment a few days ago.  Arum argues that colleges around the country have increasingly continued to fail its students in teaching them critical thinking skills.  He and Josipa Roksa conducted an experiment on multiple universities.  They administered standardized tests to students to measure their improvement in critical thinking.  The results showed that college should receive an F for this exam.  He points out that in the past three decades, there has been a noticeable decline in college students’ ability to think critically and perform successfully in an academically challenging environment.  In addition, students spend less hours studying, compared to prior generations.  He blames the routine  and process of colleges that grade leniently to get better teacher evaluations.  He quotes a freshmen student who says, “I thought college would be harder than high school, but its easier.”

I have almost three years of college under my belt and can attest to the fact that college did fall below my expectation in terms of challenge and exposure.  I of course cannot speak for every campus in the U.S., let alone colleges around the world, but I do feel somewhat cheated or ripped-off by what I have seen and endured.  In my experience, I have yet to be asked to write a paper on my opinion on a certain subject or my proposal for a certain issue.  Instead, I am always asked to regurgitate what the professor lectured in class.  In addition, my time is taken up by tedious assignments that have no impact or relevance to the overall depth of the subject or to the improvement of the students’ learning experience.  Don’t even get me started on discussions in class.  If it doesn’t end up with the professor talking to her/himself, then it is filled with random fluff by certain students who are eager to win participation-brownie-scout points…

Professor: “why do you think the orange is orange.”
Student: “Well, I would deposit that the orange has a certain connotation to its orangeness, which is the reason for it to be orange.  Unless, of course, the political situation of the economy in the atmosphere of the philosophy would have some sort of resistance or support to the orange.”
Professor: “Yes, that’s a great point…”

…And the hour and 50 minutes continues to slowly feel like its growing into years.  It would be nice if professors could ask concrete, thought-provoking questions to push our critical analysis/thinking ability by not encouraging what I call “fluff.”  I guess they don’t because they risk being poorly evaluated at the end of the semester or no way to grade participation.  Which brings me to another point, what is up with those random participation points?  I understand for its significance in high school due to the shorter class periods and smaller classrooms.  But for college – where some of our classes have 300 people, no attendance is taken, your name is of no significance, and the subject is boring – why would the professor even venture to place a percentage on participation?

Moving on…are we really getting our money’s worth?  Before I entered college, I used to have this fairy-tale notion that college was a place where your mind was exposed to new heights, you were among intellectuals young and old, and could conquer the world with this abundance of knowledge.  Sadly, I have yet to experience any of that.  Instead, I feel we all must be drones…or just too lazy to care.  It would be pretty cool if we were like those students in London who protested against an increase in tuition.  I of course found this amusing and ironic because they were angry that tuition had increased from about free to about $5,000 a year.  In that case, we hold so much legitimacy to go on strike…just saying 😛

I still believe college (and anything else in life) is what you make it or take out of it.  However, I don’t think college should continue to short change us.  If you want to know why America continues to slip in world rankings for higher education and standardized testing, it’s not only high school we need to focus on.  The curriculum structure in American colleges is inefficient.  There is a difference between basics/well-rounded education and strategy to prolong the agony of staying in school.  Why can’t we use the concepts we learned from the Renaissance period and allow students to explore their academic passions without limitations of prerequisites, credits, and uninterested counselors?  Why must I spend two to three years of my college experience attending, studying, and stressing over courses I have no interest in?  It really doesn’t help me figure out my career path or discover my purpose in life.  It actually makes me frustrated with the sense that I’m not making progress and that my degree is just a piece of paper.

(Now this is just an analysis on the academic part of college.  Regardless of its shortcomings, I have grown a lot during this time and have met a lot of interesting people.)

But hey, that’s just my opinion.  What has your experience been?  Have any of your minds expanded to new horizons?  Has college helped you define your purpose?  Or are you ready to join my new République (j/k)?  Doesn’t matter if you just started college, you are about to finish college, or you are an alum of 100 years.  Let me know what you think.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Does College teach students to think?

  1. Josephine

    Around 60yrs ago, american education was the envy of the world. Statistics show that education in America is falling behind. Most american students don’t have interest in pursuing advanced training in science and engeneering. They want easy work, easy life, and fun. Critical thing is very important and is hard work. The good news is that some young people are changing the world. Young people like you will make a difference. We need you.

  2. Josephine

    Correction in my previous post: I wanted to say that for around 60yrs, american education has been the eny of the world, but now the situation is changing.

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