Unprecedented NYU Study Finds Undergrads Aren’t Taught to Think Critically

An unprecedented study led by NYU sociologist Richard Arum followed thousands of college students in 24 schools, from highly selective to less selective, for a span of four years. While many employers may not be surprised by this study as they comment that most grads they hire lack these skills, the research led to the book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (to be released January 2011) and the conclusion that large numbers of undergraduate students are entering and leaving college without learning critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication skills universally acknowledged as the core to a college education. According to the study:

  • Forty-five percent of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college.
  • After four years, 36 percent showed no significant gains in these so-called “higher order” thinking skills.
  • Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.

Recently, CNN ran a story “Subject Matters: Students struggle with math fundamentals” where K-12 educators split their greatest hurdles in teaching math skills in three categories:

1) Knowing the basics – There is too much information to cram in too short amount of time. Students are being advanced without a strong foundation in core skills.

2) Helping students “get it” – Students have 12 years of schooling to develop holes in their core foundations. These holes are nearly impossible to address in every student because many come in with different backgrounds.

3) Math in real life – Math teachers have the tough job of relating math skills to real life to get students engaged and find relevancy in the learned skill.

If critical thinking isn’t being called out as a necessary skill in K-12, then there is no surprise college students are entering and leaving college without critical thinking skills to negotiate school and life. Critical thinking skills help students succeed academically while preparing them to be an intelligent citizen that can filter fact from fiction, serve on a jury or even find which internet provider  or phone service will give them the best deal. We have an opportunity to begin to emphasize reasoning skills which span the disciplines as early as high school or middle school. LifeBound’s book, CRITICAL AND CREATIVE THINKING is one way to approach a much needed class with coaching-based, collaborative activities through which students can learn solid thinking skills first-hand.


- Study: Many college students not learning to think critically, mcclatchydc.com

- Subject Matters: Students struggle with math fundamentals, cnn.com

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