• U.S.

Education: Bulletin No. 29

3 minute read

The question, “what does an individual get out of a college education?” is still classified as moot. One expert in the field, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has from time to time in the past decade given alarming answers. Nearly ten years ago it began testing students in Pennsylvania to find out what they knew, how much they were learning. All told it has tested some 55,000 Pennsylvanians, as high-school seniors, as college sophomores and as college seniors. Last week the Foundation issued a summary of this tremendous study, called The Student and His Knowledge, Bulletin No. 29 (406 pp.). Its recommendations, if acted on, would revolutionize U. S. higher education.

Salient findings:

¶ Although as it is to be expected, the average college sophomore knows more than the high-school student and the senior more than the sophomore, individual scores run all the way up & down the scale, regardless of the length of schooling. Thus 10% of high-school seniors know more than the average college senior and 22% know more than the average sophomore. A study of a typical college showed that, if degrees were granted on the basis of general knowledge, at the time of the test 28% of the senior class, 21% of the juniors, 19% of the sophomores and 15% of the freshmen would have been entitled to a degree.

¶ Far from adding to their knowledge in college, .many students actually lose ground. Given the same test at two-year intervals, 15% of the students knew less at the end of the two years than they did before. In 20 of 33 colleges the average student had gone backwards in mathematics.

¶ Three thousand high-school graduates, who could not go to college, were more capable than the average of the 4,000 graduates who did go.

¶ Twelve per cent of the high-school seniors knew more than the average college senior preparing to go out to teach.

The Foundation concluded that this alarming state of affairs was probably representative of the U. S. as a whole, that to remedy it the colleges must: 1) choose their students more carefully by establishing a central registry of high-school graduates’ ability, by seeking and financing the best students; 2) stop putting all students through the same hopper and advancing them on the basis of time spent in classes. Elated at the proved reliability of the objective, multiple-response tests they used to measure students’ knowledge, the report’s authors, Dr. William S. Learned, a staff member of the Foundation, and Dr. Ben D. Wood, Director of Collegiate Educational Research at Columbia College, urged that such tests replace the traditional marks given by professors.

Dr. Walter A. Jessup, president of the Foundation, commented in a foreword to the report: “The study is a landmark in the passing of the system of units and credits, which, useful as it was a third of a century ago, is not good enough for

American education today. . . . American higher education appears to be on its way to another stage of development in which promotion, at least in college, will be based upon ‘the attainments of minds thoroughly stored and competent.’ “

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com