Institutions of higher education must alter focus to prevent trend of ‘negative learning’
Recently, businesses have been questioning whether college really prepares student for a professional job. Two recent studies show that colleges aren’t producing better employees. With higher education not providing better employees, colleges need to revert to a classical education model, one that will help students think and express themselves intelligently.
The first study done on college students was commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which tested over 14,000 students at 50 colleges. The areas of focus were American history, basic foreign policy, American government and the market economy. The results were underwhelming: American students failed in every single category. The lack of knowledge in basic areas of civics was appalling considering these individuals are the future of this country.
Even more disturbing was that ISI found that some university students demonstrated what ISI calls ‘negative learning.’ Negative learning occurred when freshman did better than seniors at the same college. The list of schools with negative learning problems included such prominent universities as the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale and Berkeley.
It would be all too easy to blame negative learning on a change in universities over the past few decades from an educational environment to a training environment. The implication is that instead of being presented with a classical education and being taught how to think for yourself, you are now being presented with a narrow field of thought represented by your major, with the addition of a couple of electives on the side.
Another study performed by the College Board’s Conference Board, ‘Report of Writing Work: A Survey of Business Leaders,’ shows that university training for corporate work is largely a failure as well. Businesses spend $3 billion annually to remedy defective writing skills of new college graduates. This is paramount in today’s students because more than 25 percent of new college graduates are deficient in basic writing skills. In short, colleges are graduating an awful lot of students who can’t communicate.
The cause of many of these problems is that too many students are at universities just to receive a diploma. Instead of making students learn, universities are admitting more students and thus pandering to those who really aren’t focused on receiving education. To make better employees, universities need to return to a more classical education model that would foster the ability in students to think and express themselves intelligently.
In addition, universities must set high standards for achievement and expect nothing less than success. Having taken undergraduate classes, I find it very disconcerting how little work students can do to pass and how horrible their writing often is. Most students to whom I’ve talked say that by the end of the semester they learned nothing more from their courses than how to master the art of sleeping while sitting straight up. Of course, this does not pertain to all students, but tolerating this only encourages failure. Achieving success by lowering expectations may work in the short term to inflate statistics, but it fails the nation in the long term.
Cortland Bradford is a featured columnist whose columns appear Tuesdays in The Daily Orange. E-mail him at email@example.com.
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