About a year ago, readers across the United States were treated to headlines going something like this: "College Students Not Learning Much."
The headlines were prompted by a study of 2,300 undergraduates, which found that a full 45% of those students showed no significant improvements in key measures of critical thinking and learning after two years of college. And with four years of college under their belts, 36% still didn't demonstrate any improvements.
Accompanying these provocative factoids were more statistics that undoubtedly caused a great many readers to mumble and grumble about "all those lazy college students." Half of the students surveyed in the study didn't take a single course requiring twenty pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third didn't take a course requiring more than 40 pages of reading.
From this, one might conclude that college students are neither learning nor working, but this isn't entirely true. To the contrary, the study showed exactly what might be expected out of a college survey like this: the majority of students go to college to learn, and a minority attend solely for the experience. Some study hard, get good grades, have some fun along the way, and become better, more learned individuals, while others choose to neglect their studies, incessantly peruse Facebook in class, party six nights a week, and glide through.
Institutions obviously bear some of the blame for deteriorating standards and a lack of educational innovation, but we shouldn't fool ourselves into believing that colleges are the primary culprits for a lack of student learning. Attending college has never entailed that the student will learn anything, because -- in the end -- only the student has control over how much they learn. A student chooses whether or not to attend class, to read, to take notes, or to apply themselves academically.
Of course, the real problem with this whole situation isn't that some students are choosing not to learn, it's that those students are still graduating. The college degree is degrading into something that's merely bought, not earned.
As one enlightened author wrote, colleges are becoming "industrial degree factories." Like a vending machine, you put some money in and out pops a bachelor's.
To reverse this new trend, colleges must demand excellence. But students must also strive for that same excellence.