education · learning

The Poor Quality of an Undergraduate Education –

Academic procession at the University of Cante...
Is your college degree really worth it? Image via Wikipedia

This is a great Op-Ed piece from the New York Times. More and more people are getting brave enough to come out and say that a college education, as it currently exists, is often NOT worth it for students.

In a typical semester, for instance, 32 percent of the students did not take a single course with more than 40 pages of reading per week, and 50 percent did not take any course requiring more than 20 pages of writing over the semester. The average student spent only about 12 to 13 hours per week studying — about half the time a full-time college student in 1960 spent studying, according to the labor economists Philip S. Babcock and Mindy S. Marks.

Not surprisingly, a large number of the students showed no significant progress on tests of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing that were administered when they began college and then again at the ends of their sophomore and senior years. If the test that we used, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, were scaled on a traditional 0-to-100 point range, 45 percent of the students would not have demonstrated gains of even one point over the first two years of college, and 36 percent would not have shown such gains over four years of college.

Why is the overall quality of undergraduate learning so poor?

While some colleges are starved for resources, for many others it’s not for lack of money. Even at those colleges where for the past several decades tuition has far outpaced the rate of inflation, students are taught by fewer full-time tenured faculty members while being looked after by a greatly expanded number of counselors who serve an array of social and personal needs. At the same time, many schools are investing in deluxe dormitory rooms, elaborate student centers and expensive gyms. Simply put: academic investments are a lower priority.

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I LOVE learning and have seriously considered continuing my graduate studies beyond my MA. But after looking at the hard facts of cost vs. time investment vs. returns, even at the undergraduate level, I have unfortunately determined that it’s just not a good investment, especially for a non-engineering or similar degree.

Some students swear it’s worth it, and while I’m glad I have my BA and (almost) MA, I know enough people who are doing fine without theirs that I wonder if those of us with a BA aren’t slightly brainwashed, or simply trying to convince ourselves it’s worth it because we put so much time and money (and for some of us sincere effort) into getting it.

What has your experience been? For those who want or have a career outside of a University, what has your experience been and what kind of education did you WISH you had received? I, for example, had wished they had required more Science and Math as an undergrad (or high school), even for a social science major like me. It was all stuff I ended up needing for my MA and wishing I’d studied it earlier in my academic career.