Higher Education & Learning: Colleges Should Have an Exit Exam

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Due to federal student-aid subsidies, college has been transformed from a fairly reliable learning experience into just an experience for many students. They don’t want anything approaching academic rigor; they want fun and a credential that they assume will open the door to prosperity. To an alarming extent, schools have chosen to accommodate them by lowering standards and inflating grades.

Would it help if college students took an exit exam to show how much or how little they have learned?

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins argues for such an exam.

“According to a 2021 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities,” she writes, “60 percent of surveyed employers said that ‘critical thinking skills’ is ‘very important,’ but only 39 percent reported that recent graduates are well-prepared in this area. Similarly, 56 percent of employers consider ‘application of knowledge/skills in real-world settings’ to be very important, but only 39 percent thought recent graduates were able to perform this task well. And 17 percent of employers below age 40 report having ‘very little confidence’ in higher education. ”

Some college grads certainly have improved their capabilities, but many others have not. It would be useful to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Watkins notes that Professor Richard Vedder has proposed a National Collegiate Exit Exam (NCEE). He points out that we have exams for specialty areas like law and accounting and argues for a post-college exam: “There is no reason we cannot do the same in higher education, perhaps developing [an NCEE] that tests for critical-reasoning skills as well as knowledge that college-educated persons should possess.”

One such exam exists, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA). Few colleges use it, however. Evidently they’d rather not let the world know how little some of their students have advanced.

Watkins concludes, “Exit exams may also provide useful information on the overall quality of a given university. If an institution has poor learning outcomes, then prospective students may be inclined to opt for a different college. This sort of accountability could give colleges the incentive they need to prioritize high-quality instruction or else risk losing their competitive edge — and perhaps their funding.”

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

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