College Exit Exams -- Administering an Exam Won't Help

Last week, the Martin Center published an article arguing in favor of having colleges (or anyone else) administer an exit exam to show the skills and knowledge of their graduates.

Today’s article by UCLA’s Walt Gardner dissents from that position.

Gardner acknowledges that many students coast through college without learning much, but argues that administering an exit exam won’t help. He writes, “Nothing can replace motivation and hard work, not even a test. That’s partly why college exit exams, including NCEE [National Collegiate Exit Examination], are not a promising solution. They will not change student behavior. There is no reason they will under the present system.”

I think there’s a problem with that argument. While it’s true that many students treat college like an extended party, many others don’t. The hard workers would look far better on the exam than the goof-offs. That alone makes the test valuable. Also, some of the party types would probably adjust their behavior once word got around that it was helpful to score well on the NCEE.

Gardner is quite right that colleges are reluctant to embrace the NCEE because it might make them look bad, but that doesn’t make the concept bad.

I’ll give Gardner the last word: “In the final analysis, it’s time to admit that college is merely the most convenient place to learn how to learn. It is not an absolute determinant in students’ ability to gain new skills or secure a good job. The NCEE will continue to find great support from disillusioned and frustrated stakeholders, but it promises far more than it can deliver in practical terms.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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