Phi Beta Cons

Re: Leonhardt

There are many more weak points in his article. Here’s another that really bothered me.

One of the glaring weaknesses in the “College is good for everyone!” case is the mounting evidence that many students learn little or nothing. Leonhardt tries to escape that by noting the recent conclusion by Arum and Roksa that a large percentage of college students they sampled made scant academic gains, then writing, “But the margin of error was large enough that many more may have made progress.”

Yes, but it’s equally likely that the margin of error could go the other way and that “many more” may have been wasting their time and money. Leonhardt knows what “margin of error” means, but he’s writing an advocacy piece, so he evidently feels justified in slanting the data his way.

Then he tries to blow off the entire matter by writing, “The general skills that colleges teach, like discipline and persistence, may be more important than academics anyway.” Small problem here: There is no evidence that colleges are better at teaching discipline and persistence than they are at teaching about math, history, or how to write a good paragraph. Lots of students manifest the same aversion to work, to deadlines, and to personal responsibility as seniors that they had as freshmen.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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