A female postdoctorate at the University of Spoiled Children makes the case that instead of coursework, universities should simply cash those checks and tell her what to think.
College can still be rigorous without a lot of homework
By KC Culver, Senior Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Southern California, 28 June 2021
How hard should it be to earn a college degree?
A good question, but also a wrong question. What matters is that you gain the skills and knowledge, not whether the process hurts like that one dentist who skimps on Novocain. I’ve seen good educations come out of Podunk Universities and I’ve also seen… Harvard.
When the book “Academically Adrift” appeared in 2011, it generated widespread concern that college was not effectively educating students and preparing them for today’s world. Among other things, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa claimed that most colleges were not rigorous or demanding…
…in part because college students were not reading and writing enough in order to build their critical thinking skills. But is it really how much work students are assigned that makes college rigorous and helps them learn?
Oh, Barbie, the truth is worse.
[tangent] I was teaching math to a college kid a few years back; he was doing local community college for an Associate’s before transferring to a more expensive college for a Bachelor’s in Civil Engineering. I had him apply to the University of Southern California, aka the University of Spoiled Children, because they specialize in political dynasties and professional sports. Such universities have a problem: the kids of all those powerful donors, to say nothing of the jocks, are as stupid as bricks, which means the degrees they grant cannot be high-quality. Not unless ringers are brought in to up the IQ which, if it’s a private university, means giving huge scholarships to legitimately bright kids. Whatever it takes to make George Bush IV look smart.
My student got a full ride scholarship to USC… an ordinary kid from the backwaters of California… because he promised to make their “curriculum” look good. The curriculum that produced this very postdoctoral fellow writing to complain about too much paperwork! Try harder, my apprentice. [/tangent]
So, that’s where colleges are these days. They launder as many grants and loans as they can and if anybody gets edgy-crated in the process then kewl beans. There’s so much easy Fed money flying around that they don’t even compete for students… unless like USC, they’re so mind-numbingly expensive & exclusive that they need to rent their fresh blood.
As a scholar of higher education, I have taken a close look at college students’ academic experiences and outcomes for several years. Some people define rigor as how many pages a student reads or how many pages a student writes. But in a 2021 peer-reviewed study that I published with colleagues John Braxton and Ernie Pascarella, I found that if they do that, they might miss key elements of what it takes to help students develop critical thinking skills and become lifelong learners. They also might create an unnecessary burden for students who have other demands on their time.
You’re missing the point of college, Barbie. It doesn’t matter what you do there. The college gets paid regardless. I don’t know who coined the phrase “lifelong learning” but my money is on a college loan officer.
In education, academic rigor tends to be defined in two different ways: as a workload that is demanding and difficult or as learning experiences that challenge and support students to think more deeply.
That’s why my study examines each definition of rigor – workload and academic challenge – in terms of helping students develop critical thinking skills. The study also looks at those definitions of rigor in relation to two related dimensions of lifelong learning. One is reading and writing for pleasure, and the other is the habit of thinking deeply and critically about things.
Barbie, nobody cares if your degree in whatever is rigorous. Neither would anybody care if your degree in civil engineering is rigorous. They only care if your bridge collapses.
Actually, that’s the exact point she’s making so I’ll be quiet and let her finish.
The study included about 2,800 students who attended one of 46 four-year colleges in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012. These students took part in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, which was a large, longitudinal study of how college experiences affected outcomes associated with a liberal arts education. They completed surveys and tests at three different points during college: at the beginning of their first year, at the end of their first year and at the end of their fourth year.
In these surveys, students reported their course workload, including how many books they read, pages they wrote and hours they spent studying for class. They also reported how much their courses challenged them to engage in higher-order thinking. Faculty ask students to practice higher-order thinking when they ask challenging questions in class and give assignments that ask students to analyze information or form an argument.
Here’s what we found.
In the first year of college, higher-order thinking was related to an increase in both dimensions of lifelong learning: reading and writing for pleasure and the tendency to think deeply. Higher-order thinking was not related to development of critical thinking skills. Workload was not related to students’ critical thinking or either dimension of lifelong learning.
Across four years of college, higher-order thinking was related to an increase in students’ critical thinking skills and both dimensions of lifelong learning. Workload was related to only one dimension of lifelong learning: reading and writing for pleasure. This relationship was driven primarily by the amount of reading students did, rather than the amount of writing they did or the amount of time they spent studying.
Perhaps most importantly, my study suggests that students learn important critical thinking and lifelong learning skills because of challenging class experiences regardless of the workload. In other words, college can help students be better critical thinkers and lifelong learners without requiring them to spend a lot of time studying.
Not bad, not bad. She correctly discovered that a heavy workload is not needed for the average college experience. But neither is a light workload, or any workload, save for the need to look busy.
But… one problem, Barbie… I’m a math nerd.
Nobody learns math without lots of practice.
I haven’t looked at this Wabash study for the details. I don’t need to. I simply know that no amount of proper, guided thinking can turn a man into a mathematician. Or a coder. Or a chemist. Or a historian. Or a theologian. Or ANYTHING THAT MATTERS. You gotta earn it.
The proven-here theory that modern education is not hampered by a lack of study-time is proof that education is not happening in the modern college. Congratulations, Barbie, for being educated enough to prove that your education is not, in fact, any kind of education.
This study has implications for how courses and colleges are assessed as being rigorous. It also has implications for how faculty teach, as it suggests that they should create courses that engage students in higher-order thinking, rather than asking them to complete long reading and writing assignments.
These implications matter particularly for students from low-income backgrounds, who are more likely to work full-time during college. Low-income students are also more likely to commute to campus and have family responsibilities.
If you can’t keep up then don’t step up. You’ll just waste money.
Because of these responsibilities, students from low-income backgrounds often have less time to dedicate to homework compared to students from wealthier backgrounds who live on campus and who don’t work as many hours.
This could be easily tested by having no homework and only a couple tests. I’ve had classes like that. The vibrants didn’t do well then, either. Not that there were enough rising ghetto stars in differential equations for a properly scientific investigation. Science can’t test what isn’t detectable.
If campuses want students from low-income backgrounds to graduate at the same rate as their peers, then it is important that these students have a reasonable workload in their courses so that they don’t have to choose between college and their other responsibilities.
If colleges were smart, they’d do REAL apartheid with separate classes for unvaxxed white nerds and vibrantly pansexual, low-income Marxists. The nerds would happily accept cheaper tuition if, in return, they allowed the University to credit the tranny twinks in their curriculum statistics.
Or better yet, let’s burn it all down and go back to paid apprenticeships.