‘Adrift’ in Adulthood: Students Who Struggled in College Find Life Harsher After Graduation

‘Adrift’ in Adulthood: Students Who Struggled in College Find Life Harsher After Graduation

From the article:

Here is what they found: Graduates who scored in the bottom 20 percent on a test of critical thinking fared far more poorly on measures of employment and lifestyle when compared with those who scored in the top 20 percent. The test was the Collegiate Learning Assessment, or CLA, which was developed by the Council for Aid to Education.

The students scoring in the bottom quintile were three times more likely than those in the top quintile to be unemployed (9.6 percent compared with 3.1 percent), twice as likely to be living at home with parents (35 percent compared with 18 percent), and significantly more likely to have amassed credit-card debt (51 percent compared with 37 percent).

“That’s a dramatic, stunning finding,” said Mr. Arum, referring to the sharp difference in unemployment so early in the students’ lives after college. “What it suggests is that the general higher-order skills that the Council for Aid to Education assessment is tracking is something of significance, something real and meaningful.”

I’m really curious about this, but initially it raises more questions for me than it answers. Most of the effects seem consequences of not finding a first job (debt, living with parents), and it is hard to see how much raw critical thinking would figure into that (securing the job vs. keeping it). 

It makes me wonder if performance on the test might be a proxy for persistence or responsibility, or any of another ten qualities that will help people realize intellectual gains in college and help people in a job search as well. 

As noted in the article, the selectivity of their college also played a role. Selective colleges take smarter students, and a person from Dartmouth may beat out a person from Podunk State. But that has nothing to do with the skills, per se, but with the degree. They note this in the last paragraph, but they don’t tell us what those quintile comparisons look like when selectivity is controlled for. My guess is that they are a lot less dramatic.

Finally, depending on the correlation with the written part of the CLA, we may also just be seeing that people with writing and communication skills a) get hired over other candidates, and b) do better on written tests.

But hopefully more data coming soon.

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