Study: Many Students Learn Little In College

A significant chunk of students who seek higher education are just spending a bunch of money to spin their wheels, according to new research that finds many are hardly learning anything.

ABC News reports findings in the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses that say 45 percent of 2,300 students surveyed showed no significant development in reading, writing or critical thinking by the end of their sophomore years. The authors are professors at NYU and Virginia.

The coursework seems to be on the light side as well. The study found half of students didn’t take a course that required 20 pages of writing in the previous semester, and a third didn’t take a class that required 40 pages of reading a week.

If you went to college, what knowledge and other benefits did it provide you?

Student Tracking Finds Limited Learning in College [ABC News]


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  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Two thoughts:

    1) Some degrees are less about reading/writing and more about what the students produces. Art and music are two example. Music performance and composition, for example, don’t require a great deal of writing or reading (unless you include score reading but I doubt that is included here).

    2) One difference between U.S. collegiate learning style and, say, chinese and japanese learning style is that U.S. colleges are more focused on ideas and using critical thinking, while overseas learning is more rote learning.

    • Robofish says:

      For music, it depends on if you go to liberal arts school or not. Those schools make you take everything. UMBC is one of them

    • cspschofield says:

      I know nothing about Chinese colleges and universities, but Japanese universities are largely about Getting In. If you can Get In to a prestigious college you can spend the next four years majoring in beer and sleep, and still get job offers from prestigious companies … or you could before the collapse of Japan’s Bubble Economy – what it’s like now is something I have little data on, although I doubt it’s changed much.

    • Warai says:

      The article states that beyond reading and writing researchers saw little development in critical thinking skills. If U.S. colleges are focusing on that they are failing to some degree.

    • Coelacanth says:

      If that’s the case, then why does the study, according to the article, say that there was no significant development in critical thinking skills.

      Granted, except for fine arts and vocational students, I find this very disturbing. Liberal Arts, theoretically, should be laden with developing critical thinking skills.

      • AnthonyC says:

        This only covers through sophomore year. The first year or two tends to be largely filled with intro courses, designed to teach a body of knowledge that is relatively fixed, whereas the later years involve more and more critical thinking.

    • nealbscott says:

      Other college majors not requiring tons of reading and writing: Computer science, Math

      • tinmanx says:

        I had a CS professor for an intro to networking course tell us that he requires 20 page papers for his advanced networking course.

    • jesusofcool says:

      I agree, I have some major questions about this study (and not just because I graduated recently!) I’d also like to see some more details on what schools they surveyed, what majors they surveyed, and what types of students they surveyed. I agree that the study isn’t fair to math/science majors. And it doesn’t seem to take into account differences in out-of-class work expectations between tiers of schools. I’d also like to see whether they take into account low level undergrads who seek out more challenging professors and courses or use high school credits to bypass general electives.
      I also think it overlooks the biggest learning strides in the first two years of college. To me, those years are more about learning how to learn than the learning itself. I’m wondering if they took into account improvements in time management skills, study skills, ability to write to instruction, etc. Those skills are just as valuable in the real world.

  2. skapig says:

    With college you get what you put in to a considerable degree. What stands out to me about this study is that the study focus on the end of sophomore year, which is usually when students are finally getting out from under general education and required courses.

    • Warai says:

      That is a really good point, although it may point out a deeper issue if they aren’t gaining much from those general education courses either.

      • psychometrician says:

        Those general education courses are intended to teach the general critical thinking and writing skills measured by the CLA. The authors followed up with an additional report that covers all 4 years of college. Still not much learning (an effect size of about 0.50).

        • MMD says:

          Probably because many are huge lecture classes. Really hard to require much writing or discussion in a class that big. Reduce the class size and writing and discussion become manageable for a professor to coordinate/grade.

          • RarianRakista says:

            If you are not discussing your lectures outside class, than how are you ever going to apply that same knowledge years later on the job?

      • Etoiles says:

        I dunno, our Gen Eds were the 300+ lecture sessions where everything was posted online and sometimes, attendance was optional. Three exams a semester, in and out, and you’re done.

        As compared to all of my “I picked them” courses, which had an average class size of 20 and which generally required 3 – 6 7 – 10 page papers per semester (with 20-page final papers once I got up into my senior year).

  3. paoyu says:

    Only thing I learned in college is how to overcome frustration when trying to debug a programming project that’s due the following day, when nothing freakin works.

    • skapig says:

      The worst is when you’ve done everything “right” by following the prof’s lecture notes, but the notes later turn out to be wrong. Can really drive you batty until you eventually give up.

      • ohhhh says:

        I had a professor that repeatedly came in to class and stated that yesterdays notes were not correct and he would have to cover material again.

      • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

        I had a Psych Professor who would test us on subjects not on the syllabus, the lecture or the reading. The kicker is, that was 17 years ago…and he is still “teaching” there.

      • theblackdog says:

        I had a rather evil math prof that did that to us in Calc 2. He would go through an entire problem and reach the answer and then inform us “And this is the WRONG way and the wrong answer to this Integral, now I’ll show you the right way!”

        I wanted to stuff my now invalid notes down his throat on many an occasion.

    • Thassodar says:

      I hate when you don’t pay attention when the professor tells you what chapters are on the test and you don’t know anyone outside the class so you pick random chapters and they turn out to be wrong.

    • Hi_Hello says:

      hahaha. The only thing I loved about programming was the debugging. The day it’s due, people are packed in the computer lab trying to debug it. I would sit, and wait until a few friends are about to go crazy and asked if they want help. It is usually something really simple but because they are too frustrated, they can’t see it.

      But to program for a living, hellllll no.

  4. Groanan says:

    You get out of it what you put into it.
    If you take the classes that give you the smallest workload, and do the bare minimum, you should not expect to get any return on your investment aside from a diploma.
    I came out of college with a stronger understanding of physics, genetics, existential philosophy, contemporary mind control, and American history.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      After writing a 50 page essay for my class in Underwater Basketweaving, I’m not so sure it was a good use of my time.

      • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

        I would have loved a course in underwater basketweaving; my local community college didn’t offer it. It is a practical and creative skill, and I am all about combining form with function.

        But writing an essay about it seems a bit overkill, I agree. A course in Underwater Basketweaving is about learning a skill, which requires little more than demonstrations of basic techniques and practice. For a more-rounded approach, discussions on the historical and cultural applications of the skill would be interesting, but not necessary if you just want to learn how to make wet wicker.

    • Sneeje says:

      This was exactly my first thought–exactly where in this analysis was student skill/effort taken into account? It seems to me that any human endeavor has a bell curve on which all people fall. Some fall on the success side and others fall on the not as successful side.

  5. partofme says:

    Fourty-five percent of students? Yea, that’s about the number of students that I would guess choose worthless majors and want to just skate by with no work. Sorry, but there’s not much we can do about that other than encourage those people to not go to college (and find some other way to employ them.. this is probably the harder task). I’ll admit that I’m biased and a bit majorist. I learned plenty in my engineering education. I had friends in other disciplines, on the other hand, who did absolutely nothing in college. For full disclosure, there were also people in my department who did absolutely nothing. They either (a) left the department and went into business or something (b) failed out completely (c) graduated very very close to the 2.0 boundary.

  6. Jevia says:

    Most of the introductory type classes I took were very worthwhile, i.e. music history, art history, economics, kinesiology, accounting, psychology, sociology. Pretty much all of these have been useful to me later in life.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      I think part of the problem is that there is too much emphasis on going college right after high school which is fine for many but young people in general don’t have any perspective or a practical application for what they are learning or memorizing for a test/paper.

      The emphasis should be that learning is a life long process and not just til age 22. Also learning should be on the individual as well not relying on someone to spoon feed it them. People need to get out in the world and experience the world or life in general before trying to study it in an academic setting. Those experiences will help them learn and understand more if not faster.

  7. Reading_Comprehension says:

    The head of my department would spend a little time every class discussing (to himself basically) the woes of the department, going so far as to say that some of us should consider different majors. Unfortunately I was already halfway through the core requirements. He was right though, I didn’t feel like I’d learned anything marketable/employable in four years.

    Luckily the masters degree I earned (in half the time) gave me so much more to work with, and thanks to their assistantship program I only paid for 3 credits each semester.

    • Reading_Comprehension says:

      “What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook.” (Maybe not the exact wording)

      -Henry David Thoreau

  8. DriverB says:

    Another article where the facts stated are interesting, but not the whole story – this means 55% of the students DID show significant development.

    Also, don’t most students take their core classes and other general subjects in their first two years, leaving things like seminars for their major, thesis projects, etc – where you would expect to see more intensive writing – for junior and senior year?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      This is very true. In your freshman and sophomore years, the courses are slightly more introductory. I did have one history professor in my freshman year who regularly assigned 40 pages of reading per class, and you were quizzed every class. It was brutal. I think I had a few 10-12 page papers in my freshman and sophomore years but by the time I got to my senior year, 30+ page papers were very common.

  9. Bsamm09 says:

    I double majored in Economics and Accounting and I had a huge workload. Most didn’t start until Junior year though. Gen ed ->easy. 300/400 level Accounting and Econ was brutal. No sleep and no life.

  10. Chmeeee says:

    Regarding the requirements on 20 pages of writing per semester and 40 pages of reading per week, most of my classes required no such thing, as I was an Engineering student. There are plenty of courses where the focus is somewhere where reading and writing in large quantities are not relevant to anything useful.

    Odd that a report discussing learning and intelligence would gloss over such an important fact.

    • Al Rognlie says:

      Same here – I learned how to be an engineer, not a journalist. Most of my classes were extremely math based and what I learned had little to do with the amount of reading and writing required.

    • MB17 says:

      I would have jumped for glee if I only had to read 40 pages a week during college.

      • Chmeeee says:

        You probably wouldn’t have enjoyed homework assignments that consisted of two questions, each of which resulted in 2 to 10 pages of calculations.

  11. mac-phisto says:

    i don’t find this surprising. most students don’t start their concentrated learning until their junior year. freshman & sophomore year classes are often general education & electives.

    i’d like to see the same study done on graduates. or perhaps on students in associate degree work. in my experience, your classwork changes dramatically when you start taking coursework that’s specific to your major.

  12. jake.valentine says:

    My experience from attending university was that in exchange for paying my tuition on time and somewhat regularly attended class, I received a piece of paper with a fancy font stating I graduated. It opened the door for my first career job and that job lead to an even better career position and so on and so on……. In that respect it was worth it, but I learned 99% of what I know in my career field through experience rather than going to university. My professors really seemed to fall under the stereo-type of people who couldn’t actually make it in the real world. Those who can’t do………

    • MrEvil says:

      I am kinda glad I didn’t go to University. I’m a community college drop-out and I have a job that pays well over $50k a year in overall compensation and I’m not that far into my career. I took some specialized college coursework for my chosen career path while getting my real degree in the school of hard-knocks as it were. Now that I think about it though maybe I should have gone the cheaper Continuing education route with the college coursework.

      That being said I have one friend who actually got his degree, still stuck at the Geek Squad making substantially less than what I make. Another has his Bachelor’s and again is stuck working for the Geek Squad. I’ll admit I had some luck involved and my ability to endear myself to others helped too.

  13. human_shield says:

    Learning is not a requirement for an undergrad degree. Was it always this way? I don’t know. But today all you need to do is know how to write reasonably well and memorize answers for scantron tests.

  14. rmorin says:

    I work at a large state University and am also getting my doctorate from there. I have found that there are a disturbing number of students who are going to college “because that’s what you do after high school”. They putter around for two years taking general education classes and then graduate with a degree in a field they do not feel passionate about, but was easy to obtain.

    I feel that in contemporary american society people go to college almost as a “13th grade” and do not weigh the heavy financial factors. I am not judging any major; if you feel passionate about something and can get a lot out of college then it could be absolutely worth it to you despite perhaps the lack of direct earning potential. What I am judging is the growing population of students who go “just cuz” get a degree they really don’t care for, and take away grant and scholarship money from people that could actually get something out of the education.

    • human_shield says:

      True only up to a point. There are a lot of jobs that simply require a college degree, any degree, to be considered.

      • rmorin says:

        I guess that is part of the problem and they feed off each other. More people with degrees means businesses can be more selective, but because they are selective, then more people go out and get degrees.

        Additionally if you are anticipating getting a job that requires any degree that means you are going to college out of necessity instead of passion (those are not mutually exclusive of course, but I see a growing number of students NOT having any real passion for their area of study) then it makes zero sense to attend an expensive school.

        Why go to a 20,000 a year institution (yes my public institution charges 20,000 a year for IN-state undergraduate students) if you do not care about the education, when there are other alternatives that are far cheaper i.e. two years at community then finish at a non-flagship University so you can still get the “college” experience at literally 1/4 the cost? Sounds silly but people do it all the time. I understand the prestige around Ivys, and some “Sub-Ivys” but most of the time jobs would not care between a state college and flagship university if they were simply looking for a degree. If they are paying completely out of pocket, then they can spend their money any way they like, but why take away grants and scholarships (to which there is a finite number of money available) that could be going to people that want to get something out of their education?

        Sorry for the rant, I just work with a lot of students who go to my institution who do not have any passion in their major and just do it because it is the path of least resistance.

  15. heyhowareyou says:

    I’m glad it wasn’t just me then. I think about this often, how I didn’t learn much the first two years, whatever the reason may be – I just wasn’t improving. But the last two years, and now grad school – I think im learning a lot. My critical thinking has improved, as have my writing skills (I hope).

    Also, it wasn’t until my junior year did I also start becoming more active in paying attention to world news and politics. I wasn’t leaning any particular way till than, but now I can say as a person, I grown. Again, don’t know what it is. Don’t like why it takes 20 years instead of 18 – but glad to here I’m not alone.

  16. JF says:

    If the authors of the study went to college, it is obvious they didn’t learn much….. one of the key things I took away from my statistics course is that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

  17. mebaman says:

    Not surprised. When I think of undergrad, I think primarily of my part-time campus job, my various roommates and friends, and numerous late-night shenanigans. Though I graduated more than 10 years ago, I can remember all of that useless stuff as though it were yesterday. On the other hand, when I try to remember the classes I took, the grades that I made, the times that I studied, and the professors I had, all I can recollect are dreamlike flashes of a few classrooms and a handful of professors whose names and faces I cannot fully reconstruct. Clearly, the academics seem to have served as a mere pretext for a four-year summer camp intended to postpone years of emotional paralysis and perfunctorily qualify me for postgraduate studies (from which I actually do remember my professors, study sessions, and grades).

  18. quijote says:

    I’m surprised the article/study didn’t mention what the results looked like adjusted by grades. From what I gather, a good 50% of students at my school were below a B average. If it’s the case that the students who weren’t improving much were the students who were getting C’s, then you can’t really blame the institution or the curriculum.

  19. JCZ says:

    College degrees are nothing but proof that you can live on your own(sometimes), not kill yourself from alcohol poisoning, eat enough food not to starve, show up at previously arranged intervals, and have the fortitude to finish something of little value that takes around 5 years to complete.

  20. the_Jenkins says:

    I can believe this 100%. At my college, the teachers are more concerned about passing the students than actually teaching. I’m almost finished with my AS in Science and have probably studied a total of 10 hours during my entire time. I’ve got a 3.7 GPA (not a 4.0 because I screwed up right out of high school and have since learned how college opperates).

    It’s a sad state. I see people passing classes who don’t do work the entire semester and the teacher bends over backwards to get them through. Of course, speaking up on this has no effect upon policy.

    • DarkCalf says:

      What college is this? I’d love to sign up! Where I’m going (UMUC), they don’t bend over backwards to allow people to pass. It takes work to do well… and at the moment I’ve got a 4.0 GPA.

      • tbiscuit360 says:

        Not any special college. You don’t get associates in any prized institution nor can you major in ‘science’. Any place of merit does not have quotas on the professors to have all their students get A’s in the class.

    • DaveWW says:

      My grad program was like this. We had non-English speakers in the program (seriously, one or two of them couldn’t order a small fries at Wendy’s on their own, let alone write English) who all passed with flying colors. The main goal of the program administrators was to get the average GPA and graduation rate as high as possible to compare well with other grad programs. It was a joke.

      And don’t get me started on the Diversity quotas (No no, don’t call it a quota! It’s an initiative!) they used for admissions.

      It was a stamp on the old resume though, so it got me another well paying job for 10 years (when I could finally quit, and am now self-employed).

  21. coffeeculture says:

    College was always a stepping stone to something else…. 80% of the stuff I learned just really didn’t apply to anything and served as background material. If anything, it made me a better person via my social interactions, and I found a good mate with a good upper-middle class background.

    Oh, and I learned the limits of my liver. Sweet!

  22. dopplerd says:

    I’ve long said that in higher education we should not be looking at moving classes online but investigating the tragedy that it is so easy to move a class online.

  23. u1itn0w2day says:

    Well duh

    Most students are there to get a better paying job. At least half the college staff is there for a job. I don’t think quantity or the lack there of is the answer. You can write all the pages on any particular subject and that will not necessarily lead to a better student/product. This seems to be a quantity vs quality study.

    As many have said over time-you get what YOU put into it. Same for the teaching staff as well.

    At least someone learned enough to get published & publicity for doing a study on how college students study.

  24. SG-Cleve says:

    These are probably the people who ask “Do I have to know that for the test?” and who are happy when class is canceled because the professor is sick.

    College is what you make of it. Nobody is forcing you to go.

  25. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    Is it possible the exact opposite is happening given the numbers? Maybe lower level college courses have been dumbed down so much, that for a significant portion of the population they just re-hash subjects already studied in high school.

  26. kutsuwamushi says:

    The current model demands increasing enrollment, which means more kids who aren’t suited for college but nonetheless must be catered to. Combine that with the perception that you need that degree in order to get a good job, even if you’re not really interested, and… well, it’s kind of predictable, isn’t it?

    That said, testing sophomores for improvement is less about testing the benefits of a higher education, and more about testing the benefits of general education requirements. I do think that we should be questioning whether general education requirements “work,” but it is a separate issue.

  27. SG-Cleve says:

    As for the other benefits, I recommend living away from home on campus. This will teach you independence and how to make your own decisions. In addition to book learning, these are important benefits of college.

    • evnmorlo says:

      Dorm-dwellers are hardly exemplars of responsibility.

      • Michaela says:

        I don’t know if I could agree with that. I live in a dorm. Sure, the freshmen come in and act like fools, but you do notice an increase in responsibility as the year continues. They start to learn from their mistakes (or get shipped home).

  28. jayde_drag0n says:

    Don’t blame the schools for this. I learned plenty in college, including in my gen ed classes.. But the students sitting around me in the same class? Texting, barely capable of forming cohesive thoughts, barely even capable of spelling things correctly EVEN when they have spellcheck! Its not the teachers fault that their students are idiots who don’t want to learn. Aslo I would like to add everyone has a different learning style, I learn by listening. So for me I could take a lecture class, with no notes, no homework, perhaps one big paper, and tests.. and still come out with an A in the class AND have learned

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I was once in a 400 seat class packed to the brim and my professor spotted someone in the very last row texting. He made it his goal that classroom to make sure that everyone knew that playing around on your phone was not acceptable in his classroom. The girl turned a bright shade of red when he pointed her out.

  29. daveinva says:

    Fewer people should go to college. There, I said it.

    Most jobs don’t require a college degree to perform. Employers demand a degree as the price for the interview because they accept it as shorthand for “barely competent.” Which is an acceptable standard, but one that should be met by a *high school* degree instead of a college degree.

    Of course, once someone begins their job, a degree does nothing to protect their performance from scrutiny. It again comes back to what you learned– and bad students at a grade-inflated college tend not to learn much of anything at all.

    I wish there was a way to break up this racket, but there doesn’t appear to be an easy way out.

    I for one will never push my children to attend college. If they wish to join the armed forces or learn a trade, they have my blessing, If they wish to attend a state school, I’ll be happy to drive them there. If they wish to attend a private college, then they better have scholarships.

    No one should pay more than the minimum they can get away with for a 4-year liberal arts college degree. You want to go into debt? Save it for grad school, which you’ll have to go to anyway in order to learn anything, let alone get a good job in a liberal arts field.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      The whole idea or premise that you can learn everything you need to know in 4 years or in a formal academic setting is suspect if not outdated. Centuries ago college would be the only way to get alot of the information you can currently get through technology/media. Even the accessability of books over the last hundred years has diminished the need for many a college classroom. At the sametime that same technology and another century has created a need for even more information but is college the best way to get it?

  30. Coelacanth says:

    I’m an idealist in the sense that I wish it were possible to provide a solid public education so that a high school diploma actually meant something in the labor market. The diploma should mean that high school graduates have the ability to have the analytical and quantitative skills – as well as a general understanding of history, science, and culture. I’d love it if school districts around the country would just FAIL students who didn’t meet these standards.

    The vast majority of positions out there don’t even come close to requiring a college education – but probably do so only to ensure that people have the bare minimum skills required to write and think analytically. The bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma of yesteryear.

    It would be nice to see that people didn’t feel the need they *must* attend college just to have a decent shot at life. Universities could better focus on those people who actually want to learn a specific field, provided they have the aptitude – and add real value.

    Not to mention, the financial freedom afforded to a young adult and their family by not needing to spend tens of thosuands, even hundreds of thousands in tuition and board – or go deeply into debt, without gaining much more than expensive piece of paper.

  31. Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

    The five minute college: For half of what you’ll pay for a for year degree, I’ll teach you everything you’ll REMEMBER five years after graduating, and a pretty piece of paper suitable for framing.

    (includes bonus 2 minute lesson, “Drinking Beer from a Funnel 101”)

    • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

      FOUR year degree. FOUR.

      Too many funnels and late nights in the ladies dorms.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      The problem is your beer funnel. Remove it and you’ll remember a lot more.

      • Cheap Sniveler: Sponsored by JustAnswer.comâ„¢ says:

        Nothing wrong with my beer funnel. I just can’t remember where I left it…

  32. u1itn0w2day says:

    I think alot of the problems with college and society in general is the lack of walking around and/or usefull knowledge. You can write and read about the crap in your crack ad
    nauseum but can a write a brief and to the point complaint letter, make toast, turn a screw, read a label or owners manual and have some idea of what they are talking about.

    The fundamentals ie enough grammar to compose a formal letter, enough math to figure out and realize 600K mortgage at 40K a year is not practical. Even more vocational studies should be required so everyone could at least boil a hot dog or swing a hammer. I’ve read studies where physical projects help you think better as compared to pontificating on a particular subject. But when you have courses on zombies the basics will be weak. Is this why many Americans and students don’t even know where Afghanistan is on a map.

  33. majortom1981 says:

    I went in for business and computers. I did not learn anything. I knew everything i learned already and they really dont teach you much in the business courses.

    In the busness courses its memorizing names and answering questions about case studies. Thats it.

  34. Khayembii Communique says:

    I managed to get a Civil Engineering degree in 4 years with a decent GPA. I worked my ass off and learned a ton. For my GER’s I took for a while Honors courses and other liberal arts courses which I was deeply interested in (i.e. if a class required reading a section of a book I would check the book out and read more or maybe even the entire book). I learned a ton for those four years.

    I wasn’t able to find a job with that degree due to the economy collapsing (2009 was a bad time to graduate), so I went back to school for an Econ major. I took a full course load and managed to get the second major in 2 semesters taking exclusively Econ classes. I hardly went to class, never studied, would do the homework right before class and didn’t pay attention. I got A’s and B’s in all my classes. Most of what was taught in Econ I had already learned either in my highschool econ class or just by reading in my free time for fun.

    So it really depends on the major or field you’re going into. Econ is hopelessly doomed because the field is filled with insane morons; most of the professors hardly even knew what I was talking about when I’d bring up a question citing a relevant topic that was above what they were teaching in the class. Most of the time when I would question one of their assertions they would clam up and be like “that’s just how it is”. It was pitiful. Econ is just filled with business majors that don’t want to feel bad about themselves for getting a shitty business degree.

  35. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    About the only thing that was valuable while I was at college was my extracurriculars (Marching Band) and surprisingly, my Gen-Ed Honors courses.

    I went to school for Computer Animation, and here I am doing web design. This is mainly because 1) all my courses required web sites to present content 2) I had 2 semesters of a terrible professor who taught me nothing – and these were in key courses required for my degree.

    So I put in a lot of hard work, learned little of the actual material, but I guess I became a better person-as-a-whole for it. But as an “animator” I’m worthless.

  36. bruce9432 says:

    “If you want to drink beer go to college, if you want to learn something go to the library”
    …Frank Zappa

  37. majortom1981 says:

    PS I went to school for what I love to do. The problem is i knew everything in the classes already. IN my field you need the degree to get a job wether you know everything they teach or not.

  38. coconutmellie says:

    This is completely relative to the field studied. Anyone who is in the sciences will tell you that of COURSE you have to get a bachelor’s degree and of COURSE you will have to work your ass off. There is no real substitute for college in this instance – but every other course my university had me take in economics, political science, theology, philosophy and the fine arts could have been substituted for with a good textbook. The amount I learned in my liberal arts classes isn’t in the same ballpark as in my science/math classes.

    I’m a chemist and the amount of chemistry I knew coming out of my college prep school wouldn’t take me past the first half of the first semester of the first course of my bachelor’s degree. Let alone all my graduate work, etc.

    I’ll say it too – college might only be an option for people who want a science/technology/engineering/math degree. Everyone else might want to consider working in their field instead.

  39. Dollie says:

    No Child Left Behind done good huh.

  40. Papa Bear says:

    Having the misfortune of returning to school at 50 to re-educate myself for a third career, I can tell you that since my first go around back in the ’80s one thing has really changed: there are far too many people in college who just don’t belong there!

    I believe that everybody deserves an opportunity if they earn it, but today, people don’t have to earn it. Opportunity is handed to them. I suppose that would be okay if they were prepared to optimize the chance they are getting, but too many just can’t and won’t.

    It is not the fault of the kids coming up today. Blame lies with the school systems which don’t prepare students for the real world any longer. There is no competition, no demand for excellence. When I see screw-off kids getting awards just for showing up to school while hard-working ‘A’ and ‘B’ students get virtually ignored, it sickens me.

    I am in a bi-racial family. My kids transferred schools once and their new teachers made the assumption they were minorities – some thought they were African-American and others thought they were Hispanic. The kids were pushed into special programs. When they found out I am white and my wife is a Pacific Islander, the teachers’ attitudes changed as if someone flipped a switch. All of a sudden, no special rewards for mediocre work. Guess who’s in college on scholarships and special programs.

  41. esc27 says:

    I went to college to get a degree and a job, not to boost my critical thinking and writing skills. Maybe 200 years ago people went to college to become scholars and think deep, critical thoughts, but these days college is treated as little more than an advanced technical school and we need to embrace this.

    Cut the amount of “well rounded” classes down to a useful but smaller role. E.g. only one history, only one social science, and an updated literature class that uses modern materials as subject for debate and stimulus for discussion, instead of the same tired old stories.

    Then use the freed time to split classic crunch classes. Make Physics 1 two separate classes where students actually have time to learn the material instead of just temporarily memorize it.

  42. yagisencho says:

    I graduated college with an education that was directly proportional to the amount of effort I put into my studies.

    If a person doesn’t have the thinking skills and motivation to learn BEFORE they enter college, why would they believe that paying a tuition would suddenly change that?

  43. zibby says:

    Its probably because they don’t got a useful major like my english major their a bunch of loosers

  44. Outrun1986 says:

    I am not surprised, from what I see college now is all about how much you can text and chat on your cell phone or listen to your iPod while walking around. I can’t imagine how you would socialize or talk with the other students if everyone is on their phones or iPods the whole time. When I went to school there were cell phones but they weren’t as popular or as heavily used as they are today. I was able to socialize with the others, but now that seems impossible. If its not texting or on the cell phone everyone comes to their class in pajamas and falls asleep in class. It must be a nightmare for the professors…

    You can probably get any teacher’s edition textbook online that you want, there are services out there that will write a paper for you or heck you can even hire someone to write your thesis for you as well. If you were hiring someone to write papers for you it would be virtually indistinguishable for the professor to tell if it was your actual work or not especially if you used the same person all along. As of now we don’t even know how many college students out there are actually doing their own work.. See the Nightline story about how many people cheat their way through college and get away with it. People get by in college by cheating and lying and scamming these days, that is how it works, yes there are some students who actually study but those are few and far between from my experience (I think I might have been one of the few in my college who actually did what they were supposed to for the classes).

    Most professors in my college would pass you if you could get an A or B on the final exam, regardless of the rest of your grades throughout the semester. If you got an A on the final exam you got an A in the class. Kind of makes the whole semester pointless. It would probably only take a couple days or much less of studying to pass the exams too. With the internet so massive now I can only imagine that any type of information you need to pass that test is out there somewhere. For some classes I would only have 1-2 tests and that would be the only grades throughout the whole semester.

    Most teachers here would pass anyone if you sucked up to them enough, teachers get evaluated and I think students that don’t pass count against them or something like that so the teachers will fudge it for students that cannot perform so that they themselves don’t look bad on the evaluation forms (especially if they have a ton of students who cannot perform). I guess if you are a new professor trying to get tenure so you can keep a steady job passing your hordes of students who cannot perform is the way to go.

    Any type of school in the USA seems to be so focused on passing a test that there is no learning actually taking place, its just memorizing stuff for the test and forgetting it afterwards.

    Don’t even get me started on what is going on with the high school and lower grades in my area, basically if you don’t have one of 2 last names you are not getting a job anywhere in the school system. Jobs are made for family who needs them, so if you are born into these families you automatically get a job in the school system whether you are fit for the job or not even if you are a really crappy teacher. Our kids are hurting because of this, since half the people working in the district here aren’t fit to teach. Instead of hiring the most talented teachers who can actually teach, they hire whomever is in the family.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      And that same attitude twards academic work transfers into the real world ie the work place. So the next time your boss tells to ignore things like ethics or legalities that should give you a pretty good idea what they/their bosses did in college. Don’t forget Ivy Leaguers in charge/control brought down our economy systematically for decades.

  45. JustMyPOV says:

    I’m paying dearly for my college sophomore’s education. As soon as I saw this study, I texted him. “Are you learning anything in school?” He shot back a text, “Well, you either learn or fail.” Profound. All is well again.

  46. oldtaku says:

    It’s an opportunity thing. You need a good college and a motivated student – if you have those, the grads will have skills you don’t get in people who didn’t graduate. We all run into the people who say they didn’t go to college and just learned everything on the job. I don’t say so to them, but as an engineer I already knew that due to the gaping holes in your theory, even if you are often excellent on the practical skills. These are the people who badly reinvent calculus.

    But with a bad college or a student who just coasted, you just paid for four years of party.

  47. Garbanzo says:

    I know I learned something in college because when I was a high school senior the articles in Scientific American were too hard for me to understand, to the point that it wasn’t worth trying. After 2-3 years of college I could understand the articles no problems–not just in my field, but in general. A couple friends of mine report the exact same experience.

    And it wasn’t just that SciAm dumbed down their writing in the intervening few years. I read hand-me-down issues from years past.

  48. Hi_Hello says:

    I went to college just to get the piece of paper to say that I can do what I’ve been doing since 8th grade. They didn’t teach me anything about what I’m doing now.

    I did learn some stuff because I wanted to learn it.

    Someone told me the employer don’t care what major or college or whatever you did. The reason they want to see the B.S. degree is so they know you can be train to do what they want you to do. When they hire you, they spend the time and money training you to do exactly what they need you to do.

  49. Pig_Farmington says:

    Well… perhaps if colleges were actually regulated a bit, this wouldn’t be an issue.

    These online school diploma factories, aka federal education tax dollars reallocation to private company depositories, are diluting education, and making it so news agencies can report on spurious correlations so the public turns its back on social institutions. The fact that their n=2,300 is a bogus sample size considering the overall population.

    The study doesn’t indicate how many of the students in the sample size are enrolled at pro-profit institutions.

    I hate junk news like this.

  50. NPHighview says:

    In addition to my “day job” I do technical recruiting for I.S. staff for a Fortune 100 company, and interview undergrads and grad students (in hard science and engineering) for intern and full-time positions. I’m not seeing much fall-off in quality, but then again, we target great schools and don’t even interview low GPA students.

    My kids also fall into that category (hard sciences & engineering students at great schools, with excellent GPAs). Neither has had any problem finding jobs, getting into grad schools, etc.

    My wife (a dual doctorate) and I have spent lots of time and focus ensuring that our kids were exposed to situations that amply demonstrated the utility of diligent attention to a good education. We didn’t break the bank doing so – there are plenty of free opportunities available to everyone.

  51. thekevinmonster says:

    I learned that whatever your major is in, you will enjoy classes that aren’t in it more.

    I was a computer science major, but I took some psychology and creative writing classes along with it, since those are both things I am very interested in. The biggest benefit I got was from the sheer act of going to college and having to live by myself. By the end of it, I was paying my own room and board at a student co-op and working hard at a student job in desktop tech support for U housing.

    I’m not sure if college made me smarter or not. I’d like to think I am smarter now in general, because I am always seeking out more knowledge, and I spent five years in college so I probably learned something along the way.

  52. drburk says:

    When I was a senior (5 years ago) the professors in our department asked a few of us to participate in a meeting that covered this issue. They had noticed that the Juniors, sophomores and Freshman weren’t as academically prepared as we were to enter college and move toward graduation. They had chosen to dumb down classes and change learning styles. Long story short their changes seem to line up with the issues in this story.

  53. AnthonyC says:

    “The study found half of students didn’t take a course that required 20 pages of writing in the previous semester, and a third didn’t take a class that required 40 pages of reading a week.”
    Sounds like “Half of students are science majors” to me.

  54. Beachfox says:

    I learned how to program in seven different languages.
    I learned how to create CGI, databases, and algorithms.
    I learned how to calculate the mechanics of the atmosphere’s heat retention and the mechanics of black holes.
    I learned number theory, data sets, advanced calculus, and physics.
    I learned how to optimize search engines, how to program a cross-platform application, and how to calculate the processing capacity needed by a program.
    I learned how to model fluid dynamics, how to automatically generate a topographical map from surveyor data, and how to solve Sodoku in Haskel.
    And I also learned that there will also be those teachers who think all of that doesn’t mean shit because I didn’t write a 10 page paper about how any of the dozen books I read in a month made me -feel-, or what their inner symbolism might be.

  55. FrankReality says:

    The best things I learned in grad school were a) how to discipline myself, b) how to work hard and persist through tough times, c) how to maintain focus/avoid distractions and d) to have confidence in my abilities.

    Not one of those were in the curriculum!

  56. Supernautus says:

    In other news, the sky is blue, grass is green, and the capital of France is Paris.

  57. cinloua says:

    First of all many jobs now require a Bachelor’s Degree which doesn’t always seem right. Some 2 year colleges and some trade schools offer very good programs where you take most of your major’s courses. I am a 47 yo. majoring in Graphic Design at a 2 yr. college (Have a BS in Social Work that I went for right out of high school). I really love taking classes now and find that I care a lot more about my major’s courses than the other ones, except Art History….loved taking that! Also, I did find that local BOCES programs in NYS offered trade programs for a lot less than other schools. Sometimes spending less doesn’t mean getting less.

  58. shibotu says:

    Having gotten laid off at 50, I’m so glad I spent my college years doing drugs instead of working hard at an engineering degree or something that would have left me in the same position without even any good memories.

  59. blue25 says:

    I went to a top ranked public school in the midwest for my undergraduate degree and received a degree in English. I was reading 3-4 novels a week and writing lengthy papers, and I rarely missed class.

    I am now in law school at a fairly reputable school and fortunately for me, my liberal arts degree has really come in handy. Law was something I was always interested in and wished to pursue, so I am not upset that I am not exclusively using my undergraduate degree. Unfortunately, the undergraduate students who attend the institution where my law school is located appear to do little work. I am roommates with some undergrads who spend most of their time on Facebook/Youtube/insert random blog here. Their “projects” for school are a joke. Although I graduated from undergrad just a few years ago in 2008, I rarely skipped a class, and rarely was class cancelled. I spent hours doing homework. I am proud to be a Wolverine, and the degree I received made me work hard for it, even if it was a liberal arts degree.

    I truly believe a lot of the blame lies with many colleges having open door policies now and operating as businesses. The top ranked universities and colleges still appear to have rigorous curriculum no matter what you study. But there are countless, less competitive schools where a student can skate on by without ever purchasing the book for the class (trust me, not only does this happen, but the students actually brag about it). So study hard in high school, get into a good college, and you will profit from the competition that surrounds you. And if you decide that you weren’t challenged enough in college, try med school/law school (plenty of work, little sleep).