What did you learn in undergrad?
As we are in commencement season, a very interesting op-ed appeared in the NYTimes this weekend about students who seem to complete an undergraduate career having done the minimal. While I don’t doubt that colleges have been much more focused on appealing to students to gain admissions and that perhaps the courses are not as rigorous as they should be, it is interesting to think about (as the author suggests) measures of learning by pages read or improvement on the Collegiate Learning Assessment.
I mention this because in educational spheres I have heard the notion that perhaps learning has changed in the 21st century – not that universities have adapted a new educational style to unconsciously accommodate – and that merely the number of pages read does not correlate to the critical thinking skills gained. Some of the most valuable insight I gained in my undergrad career were through the informal discussions we had in class. How does one measure the debates that were presented that taught me how to think about problems in unique ways?
Therefore, my suggestion would not be to only have the Department of Education offer data on undergraduate learning, but to also criticize the means by which that data is taken and to brainstorm creative ways to fix our undergraduate system so that students do get the most out of their colleges.
I know that when I graduated college and now as I am preparing to complete my PhD, students do want to feel that they will be prepared to enter the workforce and be successful with the degree. So while I agree with the op-ed that perhaps new fancy gyms and deluxe dorms attract students, and perhaps are meant to showcase the endowments gained by successful former alumni, universities should investigate means to better tout the achievements of their former alumni. (for me, I have plans to purchase a new NMR for my undergrad)