Does college make you smarter?

Does college make you smarter? Not so much, say respondents on the New York Times’ Room for Debate.

First there was the news that students in American universities study a lot less than they used to. Now we hear, in a recent book titled Academically Adrift, that 45 percent of the nation’s undergraduates learn very little in their first two years of college.

After four years of college, 36 percent of students showed no improvement in reasoning or writing skills, according to sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia. Students majoring in humanities, social sciences, math and natural sciences learned more than students in pre-professional fields such as education, business and social work. In addition, students who took courses that required significant reading and writing were more likely to show learning gains.

Most college students want “a credential attesting to their employability, accompanied by as much fun as possible,” writes George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.  They didn’t work hard in high school and expect college to be just as easy.

Intellectually vapid courses and programs that will attract customers have proliferated. Professors who would rather devote their time to their own career-advancing research projects often strike an implicit deal with their students: don’t expect much of my time and I’ll keep the course easy and the grades high.

By making it easier for students to borrow money, the federal government is luring “more marginal students into college, further increasing the pressure to lower standards,” Leef adds.

It has been accurately said that college is the new high school; the way we are going, soon it will be the new middle school.

Students aren’t interested in learning, writes Gaye Tuchman, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut. Nearly all want to know, “Will I be able to get a job?”

Today’s college students average 14 hours a week of study time compared to 24 hours a week for students in the 1960s, writes Philip Babcock, an economics professor at University of California at Santa Barbara.  Thinking requires more effort than most colleges require.

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