Connecting Educational Decisions and Competitiveness

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Connecting Educational Decisions and Competitiveness

The Trends editors have previously examined the college education crisis. As we've shown, all too many colleges and universities are "missing the mark" by placing a higher emphasis on facilities and amenities rather than on the quality of students they produce and the economic utility of the degrees conferred.

Why? Because they've grown to believe that the "learning environment" they create is their product. On the front end, this may seem logical, since it attracts students who are flush with government grants and loans. Ultimately, however, an institution's product can only be judged in terms of the value-added for its graduates; that is, their increased ability to get hired and contribute to the economy.

Academically adrift

Academically adrift

Sadly, for most American colleges, the outcomes for their students have not been nearly as great as they could have been. A recent study called "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning On College Campuses," reported that of a large sample of students attending 29 American four-year colleges, an astonishing 36 percent showed no gains in learning in their four years.1 Another disturbing finding is that, currently, 40 percent of those who begin a four-year program do not graduate.

As reported in The Economist,2 U.S. government statistics reveal that U.S. high school seniors' proficiency scores for science, math, reading, and writing all declined between 1992 and 2005. In reaction to this slide, universities are "dumbing down" their curricula in order to maintain their levels of
enrollment.

For many students, this "dumbing down" also leads to choosing the easiest classes available in a path toward a degree. Consequently, the average full-time university and college student now spends just 3.3 hours per weekday on educational activities, which is easily surpassed by the 3.6 hours that students spend on leisure and sports.

Increasingly, campuses are filled with cutting-edge facilities that are only tangentially related to learning, such as first-class health and workout facilities and dining commons that offer options to meet every Epicurean wish, all housed in new and expensive "green" buildings.

Given this environment, many decide to follow the path of least resistance, driven by the mistaken notion that "a degree is a degree," and every degree opens doors to gainful employment...

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