by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Ethan Ake-Little writes for the Martin Center about one way to improve higher education in the liberal arts.
In higher education, the value of a liberal arts education has been frequently debated. Defenders on the left argue that it exposes students to coursework and teaches critical thinking skills they would otherwise miss. Critics on the right, however, have argued that the liberal arts can be a vehicle for leftist indoctrination and provide minimal value to students in an increasingly technical job market.
But the promise of a liberal arts education can be revived if universities consider standardizing their general education curriculum. Doing so could raise academic standards, depoliticize the curriculum, and improve students’ critical thinking skills.
The need for change in the status quo is shown by the difficulty students have in developing critical thinking skills. A 2017 analysis by The Wall Street Journal of the College Learning Assessment Plus, a standardized exam which measures an institution’s ability to improve critical thinking skills, showed that at least a third of seniors at more than half of the 200 participating schools were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document, or interpret data tables. But the analysis also showed that schools which establish high curricular standards tend to offer students a better education. The biggest student gains in improving critical thinking were not made at the most selective institutions, but at oft-overlooked state institutions such as Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, West Chester University in Pennsylvania, and the University of New Mexico.