Consensus is growing that young adults aren’t being taught the basic skills that lead to critical thinking.
Most universities don’t require the courses considered core educational subjects — math, science, foreign languages at the intermediate level, U.S government or history, composition, literature, and economics.
The nonprofit American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has rated schools according to how many of the core subjects are required. A review of more than 1,000 colleges and universities found that 29 percent of schools require two or fewer subjects. Only 5 percent require economics. Less than 20 percent require U.S. government or history.
Here’s what I commonly observe: the students who struggle in technical courses are those who skip the insight-developing phase. They capture concepts in their notes and they study by reproducing their notes. Then, when they sit down for the exam and are faced with problems that apply the ideas in novel ways, they have no idea what to do. They panic. They do poorly. They proclaim that they are “not math people.” They switch to a philosophy major.
Without insight you can’t do well.
Higher education may be heading for a reckoning. For a long time, despite the occasional charge of liberal dogma on campus or of a watered-down curriculum, people tended to think the best of the college and university they attended. Perhaps they attributed their career success or that of their friends to a diploma. Or they felt moved by a particular professor or class. Or they received treatment at a university hospital or otherwise profited from university-based scientific research. Or they just loved March Madness.
Recently, though, a new public skepticism has surfaced, with galling facts to back it up. Over the past 30 years, the average cost of college tuition and fees has risen 250% for private schools and nearly 300% for public schools (in constant dollars). The salaries of professors have also risen much faster than those of other occupations. At Stanford, to take but one example, the salaries of full professors have leapt 58% in constant dollars since the mid-1980s. College presidents do even better. From 1992 to 2008, NYU's presidential salary climbed to $1.27 million from $443,000. By 2008, a dozen presidents had passed the million-dollar mark.
Meanwhile, tenured and tenure-track professors spend ever less time with students. In 1975, 43% of college teachers were classified as "contingent"—that is, they were temporary instructors and graduate students; today that rate is 70%. Colleges boast of high faculty-to-student ratios, but in practice most courses have a part-timer at the podium.