Now that having a college degree is as necessary to get a job as having a high school diploma was forty or fifty years ago, what exactly are we getting out of college besides the letters “B.A.” on our resumés that is so important to succeed in in our society?
According to a study published in a recently released book called “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College campuses,” a surprising amount of college students aren’t getting a whole lot more than that. The Burlington Free Press’s article on the study explained that after giving a carefully crafted standardized test to over 2,000 college students, “about 45 percent showed no gains [in learning]after two years, and 36 percent did no better after four years.” The study cited lack of academic rigor and choosing classes that did not have much reading and writing as a key reason.
Another article on the book noted from the study, “Students majoring in liberal arts fields see ‘significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.'”
Considering this quote, and the high level of rigour found in nearly every class offered at Middlebury, it seems safe to say that this isn’t really a big problem for us. But another quote from the sociologists who wrote the book made me wonder if this problem does exist here on a less extreme scale: “For many undergraduates, they write, ‘drifting through college without a clear sense of purpose is readily apparent.'”
Now that going to college is essentially a prerequisite for our generation to enter the workforce, how many of us are here mainly because we think we have to be? And how does that affect the classes we take and how much we get out of them? I’ve been very surprised to hear how many (intelligent, driven) people I know are taking gap years or “febbing themselves” in order to reassess the purpose of their Middlebury education.
Readers, do you think this is a problem at Middlebury? Big enough to be addressed by the College? What do you guys think about a stronger core curriculum, like that of Reed College or the University of Chicago, to push many of us drifters to learn more and find purpose where we wouldn’t otherwise have found it? Or more encouragement to take gap years or semesters off?