“Americans know that something is wrong with higher education,” wrote author Kathleen Parker in a recent Washington Post column, “and the consensus is growing that young adults aren’t being taught the basic skills that lead to critical thinking.”
While this is not a misstatement by any means, Parker misses one vital component of the problem: “Higher education” is one of those pesky things – like gardening or savings accounts – where the effort put into it is directly proportionate to what one gets out of it.
Take your average freshman-year English or rhetoric course, for example. The curriculum – written by an over-stressed first year graduate student – will not be stellar or demand any particularly advanced critical thinking skills on the students’ behalf. Yet there will undoubtedly be at least one student who attends every lecture, always participates, does the readings – and at least one student who barely scrapes by.
This is not to say that one is better off than the other; simply that neither student derives any “real world” skills or knowledge from those tuition dollars. (Though you can guess which tactic will yield a higher GPA.) So-called “core classes” may teach the basics, but therein lays the crux: They stop at the basics, as well.
Colleges and universities cannot possibly regulate the breadth and depth to which every course goes, but if they insist on keeping a core curriculum, they should feel some obligation to educate every student in these areas well.
And instead of throwing more money at high-tech dorms, perhaps officials ought to consider the outdated chemistry labs, language texts, practice rooms and understaffed departments.
Which brings us to Parker’s next point, that test scores are not indicative of one’s actual abilities in the workforce (much like one’s choice of major). When there are five applicants for every job opening, who will be the most successful candidate: The one with a high college GPA, or the one who can provide a background of experience and relevant knowledge?
The rigors of certain majors (and certain universities) simply do not allow for extracurricular activities, much less part-time jobs or off-campus internships. These astoundingly bright students have ample opportunities in college research labs and graduate schools, but aren’t in high demand for today’s employer needs.