In an effort to prove that college students gain knowledge, administrators are creating assessment tests to measure the knowledge gain in their students. David Brooks writes about the findings from those tests in today's New York Times.
Colleges are supposed to produce learning. But, in their landmark study, “Academically Adrift,” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that, on average, students experienced a pathetic seven percentile point gain in skills during their first two years in college and a marginal gain in the two years after that. The exact numbers are disputed, but the study suggests that nearly half the students showed no significant gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills during their first two years in college.
Parents are demanding that their investment in a college education leads to more than an over priced t-shirt from the campus bookstore. They want to see results. However, these assessment tests are incredibly difficult to create. How do you make one test that will accurately measure the knowledge that a philosophy major gains versus the gain in knowledge from a kid who majors in chemistry? I'm not that confident that a perfect test can be created.
However, we are entering a new era where colleges are going to have to prove their worth. Parents aren't going to write blank checks any longer. If colleges can't create a perfect assessment test, then other forms of assessment are going to happen.
I like the idea of a college ranking system that measures a university's commitment to their undergraduate population using quantifiable variables like percentage of tenured or tenure track faculty, number of students who graduate in four years, percentage of faculty teaching a full course load, class size, and average student loan debt. Other useful information, though trickier to fit into a ranking system, would be support for pedagogy, the existence of graduate programs, the availability of faculty, and the availability of required, lower level classes.
Higher education is a hot topic right now. I'm glad to be part of the discussion.