On Doug Belkin: Test Finds College Graduates Lack Skills for White-Collar Jobs

Updated Jan. 16, 2015

Four in 10 U.S. college students graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work, according to the results of a test of nearly 32,000 students.

The test, which was administered at 169 colleges and universities in 2013 and 2014 and released Thursday, reveals broad variation in the intellectual development of the nation’s students depending on the type and even location of the school they attend.

On average, students make strides in their ability to reason, but because so many start at such a deficit, many still graduate without the ability to read a scatterplot, construct a cohesive argument or identify a logical fallacy.

Click here to read the full article at The Wall Street Journal

Curated from www.wsj.com

 Blogger’s Note:

The article focuses on students’ progress as a result of their higher education, but no mention is made of the underlying causes, which it must be said here, are not rooted in the students themselves or the education they receive in college.

What I found lacking was any discussion of what causes we can attribute to these reasoning skills deficits or to what we attribute their acquisition in students who, otherwise, have no learning disorders. So, when we look at the following quote from the article:

The 40% of students tested who didn’t meet a standard deemed “proficient” were unable to distinguish the quality of evidence in building an argument or express the appropriate level of conviction in their conclusion.

What are the parts of learning required for proficiency? First and foremost, the predominant skill has to be reading and comprehension. Then, once that skill is mastered, writing and logic are the next two skills needed in order to be proficient at college level. But ask any community college or university professor who teaches first and second year students, and they will tell you that a very large number of students enter college without the requisite reading and writing skills. Many will also tell you that they spend a portion of the start of the semester to review material that should have been learned and mastered anywhere from 4th to 12th grade, in order to be assured that their students will successfully learn the curriculum in their class.

It would seem to me that the CLA+ results are indicative of long-term deficits caused by poorly designed primary, middle, and secondary education curriculum and what has been missing from it, rather than what post-secondary education adds.

Critical thinking is developed and honed throughout childhood and the teen years through the education, by way of interaction, enrichment activities that children receive at home, the community, and in school. It is a skill that should be well-developed by the time college is started. College should enhance it. It should take it several levels up. The expectation shouldn’t be that college is where critical thinking is finally addressed.

From my vantage point as the personal aide to a college student, the results of the CLA+ are consistent with what I’ve been observing since I started attending classes in 2011.

It is my hope that, rather than focusing solely on why students in the West are doing better in college, though it is important to compare what they require, a very close look will be taken at all the public school systems and what is different about how they prepare their students for college.

Reference: Overview of the cognitive system: critical thinking

4 thoughts on “On Doug Belkin: Test Finds College Graduates Lack Skills for White-Collar Jobs”

  1. One of the problems I see is that parents are less and less involved in their children’s lives. I had an LD as a child – but back in the dark ages of the 1970s, I was considered “slow”. My mother wasn’t willing to accept that and over summer vacations and after school she developed my thinking rote and reasoning skills relentlessly. I was able to tackle honors in HS and had some issues in college. But at the end of the day, I earned a Ph.D. from a major medical school. Unfortunately, biomedical science has imploded, so I don’t get to do what I trained for so many years for.

    In any case, as a Realtor, I have noticed that parents are hell bent on only “special” school districts. Homes in these districts have risen beyond any kind of rhyme or reason. Meanwhile, there are perfectly decent homes in GOOD school districts – but their SAT scores reflect a mixed population. When I mention these areas to cash-strapped parents, their noses go straight in the air! NO WAY!!! OUT OF THE QUESTION!!!

    But let’s get real here. The amount of time parents are going to have to spend working to sustain a lifestyle in one of these school districts is time taken away from family and enriching their child! It seems that parents are opting to outsource education…

    It goes something like this: “I got my kid into one the top school districts in the country and am spending a boatload on additional test-prep. My job here is done!” In other words, they outsource it! Small wonder literacy is at such a low ebb.

    1. As education has declined, our collective idea of what constitutes a good education has changed from the substantive, to the vapid. It’s really unfortunate that teaching to the test is now a standard. I now attend college with my daughter as her note taker and health aide. So I get to sit in on lectures, debates, etc. It’s a very different world from when I was a college student.

      People think that money means you get the best of… Sadly, you don’t.

      It’s great to hear from you! Thank you so much for stopping by.

  2. Part of this problem is one of perception. Nowadays, many, many more students are going to college than ever before, for reasons not necessarily having anything to do with what “going to college” is supposed to mean. A college degree is often now a union card, necessary to gain employment but not useful for anything else at all. (Many colleges today are more like low-grade high schools with a fancier name.)

    The result of pressure to get a college degree is that unprecedented numbers of college students are dropping out and not finishing. Another result is that measures of college students’ proficiency appear to indicate a terrible failure of education in this country. (Actually, our education can use a LOT of improvement.) But the failure is not nearly as bad as it looks, because many students who would never have gained entrance to a college 50 years ago are college students today. The undertow of time has vastly changed the meaning of “college.”

    1. I agree. There is a great pressure to go to college and not everyone should give in and pursue an academic degree. One of our great failings is not offering non-academic programs, like those many European nations offer in engineering and other disciplines.

      As for the failure not being as bad? I disagree. I’ve been attending college as an aide for the past six years. I sit in classrooms and see what students know and don’t know. I see what is easy for them and what isn’t. I also see what professors have to do in order to compensate for what public school didn’t offer.

      We need a complete redo of our public education system, starting with a refocus of what we teach in the early years.

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