Colleges Are Flunking

Colleges and universities in the US are flush with money and applicants, and yet nearly half of the students never finish a four-year program. That low retention rate indicates something's seriously amiss in higher education.

Bad high schools can get only so much blame. Yes, 53 percent of those who go to college must take some remedial courses. And yes, too many parents push students toward college simply for the credential and promise of being in the middle class rather than for the lifelong satisfaction of learning analytical thinking, civic and ethical values, and higher culture.

But now a report by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, called "Greater Expectations," finds the reputation of colleges far surpasses the reality of what students learn. (See story, page 11.)

Many employers already know this, after hiring grads who can barely write or communicate. But colleges are so stuck in their old ways, such as overemphasizing research and independent courses with little connection to each other or everyday life, that transforming higher education will need more than a well-done national report.

Colleges must create incentives for faculties to work across disciplines and help students become eager learners who see a liberal education as practical, the report suggests. And students who just sit through classes and cram for tests only to gain a diploma are the type who shouldn't be in such "learning focused" higher ed.

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