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What are college students learning? Nobody quite knows

Sep 20, 2018 by

Despite years of demands, consumers know little about how and how much students learn

Students are hitting the books again on college campuses this fall, with fresh possibilities ahead of them.

But will they actually learn anything?

That’s a seemingly obvious question some universities and colleges are struggling to answer — and, in some cases, trying to avoid. And where there is information about whether students finish college knowing more than when they started, it’s not altogether reassuring.

“When you look at college mission statements, they’re loaded with grand pronouncements about the skills and habits of mind they’re going to inspire in their students,” said Alexander McCormick, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University Bloomington. Yet “even as they teach their students to back up their claims with evidence, they don’t have much evidence to back up those claims.”

Higher education has found itself under increasing pressure to change that, just as has happened in elementary and secondary schools, where a battery of standardized tests constantly check in on what students know. The push is coming from policymakers and consumers who want to know the return on their investments in college.

“We’re starting to see a lot more interest in this area” from governors and legislators, said Robert Anderson, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. “We’ve never really had to demonstrate our learning,” said McCormick. “It’s on the agenda now, I think because of the escalating cost.”

Things have moved at a crawl, however, and not always forward.

Source: What are college students learning? Nobody quite knows

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