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Yes, Colleges Do Teach Critical-Thinking Skills, Study Finds

Report: “Does College Teach Critical Thinking? A Meta-Analysis”

Authors: Christopher R. Huber and Nathan R. Kuncel, both of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Publication: Review of Educational Research, a journal of the American Educational Research Association

Summary: Educators, policy makers, and employers all want colleges to teach students critical-thinking skills, but are colleges succeeding in doing so? To answer that question, the study’s authors analyzed 71 research reports published over the past 48 years.

Their conclusion: Yes, despite arguments to the contrary, students’ critical-thinking skills do improve in college. The difference is comparable to a student whose critical-thinking skills start at the 50th percentile and, after four years in college, move up to the 72nd.

Findings:

  • The study’s authors found no differences in the critical-thinking skills of students in different majors, and it is still unclear whether students’ gains happen earlier or later in their time in college.
  • Over the 48-year period, overall gains in critical thinking have decreased. But, the researchers say, there could be many explanations for that: Students may already have those skills when they come to college, or the increased numbers of students attending college might mean that more students are not prepared to learn critical-thinking skills.
  • Students are learning critical-thinking skills, but adding instruction focused on critical thinking specifically doesn’t work. Students in programs that stress critical thinking still saw their critical-thinking skills improve, but the improvements did not surpass those of students in other programs.

Bottom Line: Over the last 48 years, most students have learned critical-thinking skills in college, whether or not their programs emphasized critical thinking in coursework.

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