My take: While there may be quite an important trend uncovered by this survey, I believe (from my position) that some of the assumptions may not be fully vetted.emphasis mine):
A new study provides disturbing answers to questions about how much students actually learn in college – for many, not much – and has inflamed a debate about the value of an American higher education.
The research of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.However, this part bothers me:
One problem is that students just aren't asked to do much, according to findings in a new book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses." Half of students 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 even 40 pages of reading per week.
Where is the metric measuring critical thinking and complex reasoning OUTSIDE of a writing class? Mathematics and physical science-based courses are prime venues for the development of rational and analytic reasoning, no? How come no mention of non-writing-based courses in the ENTIRE article? Perhaps no data from these courses is in the study?
More from the article:
Three of the five classes [Julia Rheinecker, a freshman at the University of Missouri,] took... were in massive lecture halls with several hundred students. And Rheinecker said she was required to complete at least 20 pages of writing in only one of those classes.
I am very dubious about any direct link between college class size and either the difficulty of a course or its perceived lack of rigor. Large-lecture courses can be quite challenging and yet every bit as personal and interactive as small seminar-type classes. I doubt this study had any focus on class size at all. So this part is not relevant, IMHO.
And finally, some additional conclusions in the study:
_Students who studied alone, read and wrote more, attended more selective schools and majored in traditional arts and sciences majors posted greater learning gains.
_Social engagement generally does not help student performance. Students who spent more time studying with peers showed diminishing growth and students who spent more time in the Greek system had decreased rates of learning, while activities such as working off campus, participating in campus clubs and volunteering did not impact learning.Knowing something about how math is taught and learned at the university level, I am hard-pressed to believe any data showing that studying alone is better than studying with peers. On this point, I can write volumes! And there are data and programs (Think PLTL, for example) to support the opposite conclusion. In fact, we have a local PLTL program here at Hopkins, and our data do not support this study's conclusion in this point.
Overall, I see this study as being a bit alarmist. Critical studies on the effectiveness of college education are absolutely necessary. I will read this study. But I am already biased due to this article. Oh well....