Critical Thinking and Higher Education

According to Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, “faculty members agree almost unanimously that teaching students to think critically is the principal aim of undergraduate education”(9). There are many reasons that improving students’ ability to think critically has become a goal of many colleges. For one, “the labor market values ‘the highly analytical individual who can think abstractly’” (11). As the needs of the labor market keep changing, there is an overwhelming need for individuals who know how to think and question information. These individuals need to know how to think abstractly, analytically, and have complex reasoning. Knowing how to memorize information and being able to spit it back out is not beneficial to a firm or to society.

With critical thought being so necessary both in daily life and in a career, many colleges are trying to find ways to enhance this critical thought in students. In fact, Academically Adrift explains, “if students are able to receive high marks and make steady progress towards their college degrees with such limited academic effort, must not faculty bare some responsibility for the low standards that exist in these settings?” (22) This reading explained that if faculty does not require critical thought, students would, as data suggests, take the easy way out of education and do minimal amounts of studying just to get the grade. In order to avoid these situations, the students must have some kind of connection with the professor and with the knowledge. In fact Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa explain, “Our findings provide clear empirical evidence that academically rigorous instruction is associated with improved performance on tasks requiring critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication”(140). There is a need to change school and education from being seen as just work that needs to be done to something that students are connected and interested in.

While colleges are trying to improve their students’ critical thought, there is no real way to measure improvements critical thinking. While people have tried to measure critical thinking through things like the Collegiate Learning Assessment, these types of assessments are very broadly graded and do not accurately portray improvements in critical thought. While critical thought cannot be accurately measured, there are ways that critical thinking can be improved and these attempts at improving critical thought have become an increasingly present part of colleges.


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