Driven to discover: What’s the point of higher education?

A recent study that says students aren’t learning in the classroom does not measure the full college experience.

John Grimley

“Driven to Discover.” ItâÄôs both the University of MinnesotaâÄôs advertising slogan and the mindset it expects students to adopt once they get here. Yet a new study has people questioning exactly how much students actually learn in college classes. If students arenâÄôt learning as much as everyone expects from class, does this mean that the value of college education is overrated?

The college experience extends far beyond our classroom education. It influences everything from what kind of career we have to who our lifelong friends will be. It offers us a chance to try new sports âÄî like broomball or long boarding. There are clubs focusing on a wide variety of interests, both career-orientated, like architecture, and off-beat, such as zombies.

College has not been scrutinized very often about its value. The general opinion is that higher education is expensive but you get what you pay for.

However, last week the University of Chicago Press published a study measuring the change in college studentsâÄô critical thinking abilities over their college career. The study âÄî titled “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” âÄî showed that after two years of college, 45 percent of students showed no improvement in critical thinking or complex reasoning skills. After four years, 36 percent of students still showed no improvement.

The current study examined over 2,000 students at 24 different colleges, testing students three times over a four-year span. The study used a test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a common essay test that measures comprehension and reasoning. It looked at two-year and four-year schools, both public and private.

The results bring up an uncomfortable question that most students really donâÄôt want to consider: Is it all worth it? Are the late-night Coffman Union study sessions, stressful finals weeks and exhausting 20-page research papers really helping us as much as we think? Despite the somewhat disconcerting results of this recent study, absolutely.

College gives us skills that we donâÄôt even realize we have, like networking. We form many of our lasting relationships in college.

Professors, students and work colleagues make up a network that you will help land you that dream job.

Going to a large school gives us a chance to meet people from a wide range of backgrounds. You can find people from almost every continent, every belief and every culture. The combination of size and variety means that students will have a very diverse network of contacts by the time they graduate.

Granted, everyone will build a social network, regardless of whether they went to college. College just makes the process run a little smoother because it gives everyone at least one thing in common âÄî youâÄôre there.

Aside from getting a degree, your time at school helps you choose what you want to do for a living in another giant way. Internships can be one of the greatest experiences of your school career. They can also be one of the worst. Depending on what you do and where you go, these helpful opportunities can show you a career before you fully commit yourself to it. Even a bad internship experience can at least give you an idea of what you donâÄôt want to do for the rest of your life. Internships are the equivalent of taking a career for a test drive.

The easiest, quickest way to get an internship is to be a college student. Minnesota has an amazingly flexible system set up to help students find the right company to loan out their time and effort in exchange for a nice résumé bullet point. The College of Liberal ArtsâÄô GoldPASS system and MinnesotaâÄôs LandIt! both let students search for jobs and internships that fit their interests as well allowing them to post résumés and prior work experience.

In addition, One Stop student services offers career counselors who will sit down with you and help figure out what kind of job would be a good fit. ItâÄôs a lot easier to find out exactly what you want to do in life when you have people who will help you find jobs that fit your interests.

Internships are a great resource to help you find exactly what you want to do for a living. Luckily for us, most internships are intended specifically for college students. Sure, the pay may be low or nonexistent, but they look great on a résumé and they can help people find their calling.

Referring back to the study, there has been some scrutiny of the results. There are no tests that can measure everything that college gives us, and this one is no exception. The accuracy of a written essay test is questionable at best. The intangible skills that college helps us hone will not show up on this kind of test.

Regardless of whether the results are accurate, the entire collegiate process is much more important than whether we raise our IQs in the process. The degree at the end of our learning careers is merely one of the many things we gain as we go through the college experience. Higher education gives us some of our most important life skills, whether we notice it or not. It also helps shape what kind of adult many of us end up being. These are things that canâÄôt really be measured with an essay test.

 

John Grimley welcomes comments at [email protected].