Column: It’s official: College makes you stupid in quest for a degree

By John Bambenek

Editor’s Note: John Bambenek is the founder of the local chapter of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and currently serves as the acting Faculty/Staff advisor of the group.

Business leaders have started questioning the value of a college education as a requirement for a professional job. This feeling has been buttressed by two studies that have come out recently showing that colleges aren’t producing better citizens or intellectually sound employees.

The first study was commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute which tested over 14,000 students at 50 colleges. The areas of focus were: American history, basic foreign policy, American government, and the market economy. The results were underwhelming.

In short, American students failed in every single category. The lack of knowledge in basic areas of civics is frightening when one realizes these individuals are the future of this country, even though they know almost nothing about this country.

The other disturbing finding was that some universities demonstrated what ISI calls “negative learning.” In short, freshmen did better than seniors at the same college. The University of Michigan is one of the schools that demonstrated negative learning, and who’s really surprised? It’s Michigan. However, other schools that had this problem were the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale, and Berkeley. The more elite the university, the dumber the students seemed to get.

Now some would claim this was an unfair measurement of student success because they feel America is the worst entity on the planet, and they long for the day revolution comes to overthrow the corporate politico-fascist regime. (They’re patriotic! Really!) However, one should still learn about the entity they are criticizing before making judgements.

It would be easy to blame the change in universities from an education environment to a training environment over the past few decades. The implication is that instead of being presented with a classical education and being taught how to think for yourself, you are being presented with a narrow field of thought represented by your major, and quite often only from one perspective in that field (usually liberal).

In a recent survey by the Conference Board, “Report of Writing Work: A Survey of Business Leaders,” findings show that university training for corporate work is largely a failure as well. Businesses spend about $3 billion annually to remedy defective writing skills of new college graduates. The “Workforce Readiness Report Card” also by the Conference Board largely supports these findings as well.

For instance, more than 25 percent of new college graduates are deficient in basic writing skills. The reading and oral communication skills were better but still pathetic. In short, colleges are graduating an awful lot of people who can’t communicate.

The main cause of this problem is that far too many students (mostly male) are here just to get a piece of paper. This can also be seen by many studies showing women passing men in academia. Instead of making these boys learn and commit themselves, largely the universities seem to pander to those who really aren’t here to learn.

The universities should make them learn or kick them out. The military is a really good place to send such boys to go to develop some sense of maturity and responsibility.

A return to a more classical education model would help instill in students the ability to think and express themselves intelligently. The problem of liberal bias exacerbates this by causing an atrophy of thought.

Lastly, the universities should set high standards for achievement and expect nothing less than success. Having taken a few undergraduate classes, I was appalled at how little one could do to pass and how horrible the writing actually was. I may be biased because I’m an old creep, but tolerating this only encourages failure. Achieving success by lowering expectations may work in the short term to inflate statistics, but it fails the nation in the long term.

Higher education is starting to lag behind the rest of the world. It is going to take serious reform and commitment if the United States wants to retain its place in the global economy.