Students earn their degrees without improving their ability to think critically or solve problems

Monday, June 12th, 2017

The Wall Street Journal took a closer look at CLA+ test results, which purport to measure critical-thinking skills, and found that the average graduate shows little improvement in critical thinking over four years:

A survey by PayScale Inc., an online pay and benefits researcher, showed 50% of employers complain that college graduates they hire aren’t ready for the workplace. Their No. 1 complaint? Poor critical-reasoning skills.

“At most schools in this country, students basically spend four years in college, and they don’t necessarily become better thinkers and problem solvers,” said Josipa Roksa, a University of Virginia sociology professor who co-wrote a book in 2011 about the CLA+ test. “Employers are going to hire the best they can get, and if we don’t have that, then what is at stake in the long run is our ability to compete.”

International rankings show U.S. college graduates are in the middle of the pack when it comes to numeracy and literacy and near the bottom when it comes to problem solving.

The CLA+ test raises questions about the purpose of a college degree and taps into a longstanding debate about the role of colleges: Are they are designed to raise students’ intellectual abilities or to sort high-school graduates so they can find the niche for which they are best suited?

The role of a diploma as signal of ability has been in the ascendancy recently, given how having a degree is closely related to graduates’ lifetime earnings. The test data, by contrast, show that many students earn their degrees without improving their ability to think critically or solve problems.


  1. Aretae says:

    Separate students by major and check for college value, and the picture changes fast.

  2. Kirk says:

    The long American experiment with handing off acculturation and training to academia is nearly at its end, and what we’re going to find at the end of the day is that the academics are not anywhere nearly as good as they claimed, at any of it.

    I would really love to be able to go back and dig into the original basis for all this, and find out precisely what went into those lawsuits that took down the aptitude and job testing regime we had in place back in the old days. From the standpoint of actual effect, the whole thing starts to look awfully fishy, once you examine all the “pro bono” lawsuits coming out of the academic legal world that destroyed that old testing/employment regime. If you were to posit that it was a criminal conspiracy, and then produce some evidence that the people behind those lawsuits did what they did with malice aforethought, and an understanding that the likely replacement would be the use of education-gained credentials as a proxy for what they had been testing for… Well, you’d probably find it easy to convince a lot of people that it was done deliberately.

    More likely–Just the unholy concatenation of liberal do-gooders blind to the actual effect of what they were doing, and the end result of enshrining academia and a college degree as basic working credentials are just an unintentional side-benefit for what they did.

    If you go back over the last century, and examine a whole lot of things like the deinstitutionalization of the mentally deranged, along with the liberalization of the legal system, there are a lot of things that really start to make you wonder. I mean, seriously–The end effects of all these things have been universally inimical to public life in our Republic. I can buy one or two accidental things working out badly, but all of it…? You really start to wonder…

    At this stage of my life, it wouldn’t take a hell of a lot to convince me that there’s been some grand conspiracy, because it becomes awfully hard to accept that all this damage to the public commons just happened coincidentally through a series of unfortunate accidents…

  3. Night Boat to Cairo says:

    Kirk, wasn’t it disparate impact that killed all the aptitude tests?

  4. Isegoria says:

    Aretae’s point about separating students out by major reminds me of Randy Olson’s recent graph of Average IQ of students by college major and gender ratio that I spotted on Twitter.

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