College Guide


January 19, 2011 3:41 PM Who Doesn’t Learn?

By Daniel Luzer

There’s so much interesting evidence coming out from the Social Science Research Council report on college learning.

The study, which measured students’ knowledge when they left college relative to their knowledge when they began, is oddly the first ever attempt to look at college progression in terms of actual learning.

As I wrote yesterday, it turns out many Americans aren’t learning very much at all in college. Some students are learning, however, and they’re mostly students taking traditional courses. According to a piece by Sara Rimer in the Hechinger Report:

Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts - including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics - showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.
That is welcome news to liberal arts advocates. “We do teach analytical reading and writing,” said Ellen Fitzpatrick, a professor of history at the University of New Hampshire.

You know who doesn’t learn? It’s students with those practical, vocational majors, those that are supposed to exist as preparation for jobs.

As Rimer writes: “students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least gains in learning.” College, in fact, may have just been a waste of time.

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


  • Texas Aggie on January 20, 2011 1:47 PM:

    We say we want our kids to learn critical thinking skills in secondary school, but this survey shows us that the people teaching our kids never learned those skills themselves. While I'm not saying that our schools are failing, I am saying that doing something to improve the quality of the people going into teaching is necessary. We need to change the way that teachers are prepared in the first place, and then get good people into those programs.

    A good analogy is an NCAA football team. A winning program first recruits good players and then works with them to improve their skills. You can't be "successful" without doing both. We've got to get good people to go into teaching and then we've got to see to it that they are well prepared with knowledge of their SUBJECT MATERIAL l and knowledge of how to impart that material.