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January 18, 2011 3:35 PM Learning vs. Efficiency

By Daniel Luzer

College students may have trouble learning because their classes don’t focus enough on reading and writing. At least that’s according to a new report prepared by the Social Science Research Council.

According to an article by Jamaal Abdul-Alim in Diverse Issues in Higher Education:

The study found that students who took courses that required both significant reading (more than 40 pages per week) and writing (more than 20 pages per semester) had higher rates of learning.
Over the entire four-year college experience, 50 percent of students had taken five or fewer courses that required significant writing, and 20 percent had taken five or fewer courses that required significant reading.

So what should we do about this? Well according to the article, “the book and report suggest several policy recommendations, including seeking federal funding for institutional improvement.”

It’s hard to see why more federal funding for institutional improvement would result in substantial progress. Part of the problem is that college courses requiring lots of reading and writing are not only more difficult for students; they’re also more challenging and expensive for colleges to administer.

Every essay a student writes, after all, has to be read by someone paid to do so. This is at the same time that colleges are pushing larger and more impersonal courses on students, and even forcing students in traditional colleges to take courses online. That’s because these things are cheap.

So what, should colleges be looking for federal funding to reverse that trend?

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer