Letter to the Editor
Last week, the editorial board of The Tartan wrote a response to a USA Today article concerning a student’s first two years at an American university. The USA Today article reports that 45 percent of students involved in the study it referenced showed no significant gains in learning during their first two years of college and also that students spend less time studying than they did a few decades ago. The Tartan responded that these first two years should be used as building blocks for later study and that, “if the majority of the nation’s college students are unable to get anything out of their first two years, perhaps a re-evaluation of the way students structure their time is necessary.”
I’ll agree that there are all sorts of issues with the current American education system and it very well could use some reform, but that’s not my focus here. I will argue, though, that these articles are missing a bigger picture, especially when taken in the context of Carnegie Mellon. What both USA Today and The Tartan failed to acknowledge is the culture of being a college student today. College is no longer considered solely a time when a student learns. Try getting a job with only good grades to support you, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
College has become more of an “experience,” where the student is expected to grow both academically and personally. In fact, it’s an initiative that Carnegie Mellon has been working on for years. I expect that, if the administration had data suggesting that current students study less now, they wouldn’t necessarily be disappointed. Granted, at another school, where this data could indicate large amounts of partying, it isn’t the best news. But at Carnegie Mellon, it’s a good sign that students are more involved outside the classroom, spending time with people outside their majors and generally building a community. You’d be hard pressed to convince me that the rigor of academic programs has decreased, both because of my personal experience and the good reviews our school receives. So a decrease in time spent studying hopefully indicates that students both complete their studies and do activities outside the classroom as well.
For me, the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, the one cited by USA Today, sounds nearsighted. Learning cannot solely be measured by a standardized test. And while that makes universities harder to judge, it certainly is no excuse to totally assume that today’s students are underachievers.