Every parent today knows that college will be one of the biggest expenses in their children’s lives—if not the biggest. And the expenses don’t begin and end with tuition, room, board, and books. Today, a profitable industry has sprung up around SAT prep courses, college counselors and the like. Yet the truly surprising thing about this monumental, life-altering expense is how seldom one question is asked: Is it all worth it? How much do students actually learn in college?Over the past eight years, The University of Texas has tried to answer this question by looking at the results. Their findings are sobering: Apparently, kids aren’t learning all that much. The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), a SAT-like test which compares students entering colleges from those graduating showed an improvement of only 42 points after four years of education. Other recent studies have backed up these findings. According to one released last year, a full 36 percent of students make essentially no progress in their four years of schooling.Colleges—and parents—need not despair. There is a silver lining to these findings. As the Washington Post points out, colleges are beginning to be swept up into the accountability and standards maelstrom blowing through primary education. A group of over 500 public schools has already agreed to administer the CLA or a similar test this year and publish their findings, and others are sure to follow in their footsteps. As study after study reveals the gross inadequacies in American higher education, schools are agreeing to use some form of accountability test to measure their performance and determine what needs to be improved.Colleges will hate this, but employers as well as parents want to know what if anything students learn. A college degree has no intrinsic value: it is a statement by an accredited faculty that a given student has reached a certain degree of proficiency. Anything that restores some honesty to the degree awarding process and that allows graduates to compete for jobs based on what they have learned rather than how much prestige their alma mater has (currently the Ivy League wastrel often has better job prospects than the serious, hardworking graduate from a state university) is a good and noble thing.Accountability is coming to a university near you. Possibly sooner than you think.
Is Our College Students Learning Yet?