Students Learn Less in College, Even As Education Spending Skyrockets

“Nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don’t make academics a priority,” according to a new study discussed in USA Today. “36% showed little” gain after four years. Although education spending has exploded in recent years, students “spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.” “32% never took a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”

Students are learning so little, and borrowing so much to attend college, that some are predicting massive defaults on student loans.

America spends far more on education than most other countries. Yet despite this lavish government support for education (which rewards colleges for increasing tuition), college tuition in the U.S. is skyrocketing. Americans can’t read or do math as well as the Japanese, even though America spends way more on education than Japan does, as a percentage of income.

K-12 education is better in Japan because teachers there learn through apprenticeships and on-the-job training, rather than taking useless classes filled with psychobabble at education school, as George Leef points out in “Nurturing the Dumbest Generation.” “In Japan, there are no education schools at all. Those who wish to become teachers first earn degrees in some academic discipline and some of them are then accepted as apprentices who learn teaching by assisting veterans in the classroom.”

States spend hundreds of millions of dollars operating colleges that are worthless diploma mills, yet manage to graduate almost no one – like Chicago State, “which has just a 12.8 percent six-year graduation rate,” or a college in El Paso that graduated only “1 out of 25 students in a timely manner.”

Some education experts are calling for “draconian education cuts” to eliminate harmful spending. Law professor Glenn Reynolds notes that “some spending on educational institutions” may actually have a “negative” effect on education. People endure useless college courses to get paper credentials, but they get their actual education through internships and work.

College tuition is often a rip-off, since most people who went to college because of rising college-attendance rates in recent years wound up in unskilled jobs (including 5,057 janitors who have Ph.Ds or other advanced degrees), and tuition is skyrocketing faster than housing costs did during the real estate bubble. (100 colleges charge at least $50,000 a year, compared to five in 2008-09.) Bush increased federal education spending 58 percent faster than inflation, while Obama seeks to double it. Spending has exploded at the K-12 level: per-pupil spending in the U.S. is among the highest in the world, and “inflation-adjusted K-12 spending tripled over the last 40 years.”

Image credit: Honeywell-Nobel Initiative’s flickr photostream.