Experts Say Colleges Not Adequately Preparing Students For New Century's Challenges
> 1/18/2007 11:07:09 AM

According to an extensive report from the American Association of Colleges and Universities and a recent book by former Harvard president Derek Bok, American colleges are now stuck in an antiquated mindset, focusing on a narrow window of specialized knowledge and not emphasizing the broader critical thinking and communication skills that are becoming ever more essential in our rapidly changing economy. Echoing recent education summaries, both the AACU report and Bok 's book Our Underachieving Colleges state that, although enrollment and graduation rates are up and rising, the levels of cognition and performance exhibited by our students is lamentable.

Make no mistake: it's a good thing that a college degree, once considered a privledge afforded the few, is now available to more Americans than ever before. But offering inferior education to a larger share of the populace is not a winning equation. And the numbers are startling. While 75 percent of high school graduates now enroll in college within two years of graduation and 67 percent matriculate immediately after high school, only three in ten American students will hold a baccalaureate degree twelve years after beginning high school. And despite significant gains, these numbers remain stubbornly stratified by income and race.

Independent research
uses a generous "global preparedness index" to measure the technology and communications savvy of graduating students; according to surveys completed from 1988-2000, only one in ten students fulfilled the criteria for inclusion, and less than 25 percent of human resources professionals are satisfied with the workplace readiness of the recent college graduates they employ. According to the experts weighing in, today's curriculum focuses on science and the liberal arts to the exclusion of creative problem solving, writing and quantitative thinking skills, as well as civic knowledge and participation in government. Liberal education, they argue, cannot be strictly "nonvocational," and students should work with potential employers long before graduation. They do not propose a "one size fits all" plan of study, but emphasize the presence of this type of general skills training in every major, no matter how specific. On the civics end, this statistic will shock many Americans: though colleges and universities receiving government aid are required by federal law to distribute voter registration materials to all students within 120 days of a general election, only 17 percent comply. As a result, fewer students actively participate in the political process, arguably leading to greater apathy among the youngest voting blocs.

Perhaps the most significant contributors to these problems, according to representative opinionators from Dartmouth, are elements that cannot be quantitatively measured by popular polls or school rankings: lackadaisical performance on the part of many professors (especially those tenured professors who risk almost nothing through inattention and unsatisfactory methhod) and the iron grip that faculties hold over the policies of an institution. Students fulfilling academic requisites for which they have little interest end up in subpar classes taught by graduate assistants, and presidents and deans who attempt to implement even slightly reformative policies can be shouted down by faculty groups, further securing the mediocre status quo. The same experts argue that alumni and donors holding the purse strings to private schools also wield the greatest power for change.

Such points can potentially be dismissed as generalities, but the facts, eloquently stated by State Farm CEO Edward B. Rust Jr., speak for themselves:

At State Farm, only 50 percent of high school and college graduates who apply for a job pass the employment exam...Our exam does not test applicants on their knowledge of finance or the insurance business but it does require them to demonstrate critical thinking skills and the ability to calculate and think logically. These skills plus the ability to read for information, to communicate and write effectively, and to have an understanding of global integration need to be demonstrated. This isn't just what employers want; it's also what employees need if they are to be successful in navigating the workplace.

Education professionals should read this quote as a call to action.

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