By Thomas H. Benton
Unsurprisingly, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press, 2011), by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, reveals that at least 45 percent of undergraduates demonstrated "no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills in the first two years of college, and 36 percent showed no progress in four years." And that's just the beginning of the bad news.
Meanwhile, in his State of the Union address, President Obama included a call for more Americans to go to college in order to make us more competitive in a global context. This is "our generation's Sputnik moment," he said.
Many professors will recall that the arms race with the Soviet Union motivated a surge in support for higher education that lasted until the end of the 1960s. It was a rising tide that lifted all boats, including the arts and humanities. Fifty years later, perhaps the most visible remnant of the original "Sputnik moment" is the belief that everyone should go to college.
But that raises the question: What good does it do to increase the number of students in college if the ones who are already there are not learning much? Would it not make more sense to improve the quality of education before we increase the quantity of students?