Universities are falling down on the job. They are failing to teach America’s college students the critical thinking skills they will so sorely need in the marketplace. This according to a recent study by the Social Science Research Council.
SSRC tracked several thousand college students’ performance on a critical thinking test from their freshman year to their senior year. About 45% showed no significant improvement after two years of college and 36% didn’t improve at all by the end of their fourth year. Woah!
Those who conducted the study as well as its critics all agree that we should be careful not to inappropriately interpret the data. A lot more work needs to be done to fully understand what these numbers mean. But the basic conclusion is undeniable: Today’s incoming workforce will likely be very challenged when it comes to critical thinking.
Industry and government gurus are concerned about high-level impacts like our country’s ability to compete in STEM fields (graduate-level work in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). My concern is far more pedestrian, widespread and horrific in its impact.
In the corporate workshops I conduct, I meet the huddled masses that work in our cubicles and shop floors. According to research by the Jensen Group, they each get about 325 pages of information every day…And to do their jobs they only need about five pages of info every day!
This is where the Critical Thinking Skills Gap comes in big time. How do they know how to scan all that fast? How do they know how to synthesize it into manageable groupings? How do they know how to compare, contrast and prioritize all that? How do they know how to 1.6% useful stuff (5 pages) from within the 98.4% noise and crap? Nobody knows how to triage their info!
Academically Adrift? Hell. Try this on for size: Business’s Daily Triage Crisis…That ain’t getting’ any better.