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Paul J. Dovre, Published January 23 2011

AP article on college learning misleads

Last week an Associated Press article in The Forum, “New study finds limited learning in college,” provides a misleading view of student academic achievement in our region. The academic performance of the 20,000-plus students in the Fargo-Moorhead community offers ample and compelling evidence that flies in the face of the findings presented in the study. Let’s take a closer look at a few comparisons using assessment data from the regional institution I know best, Concordia College.

Study finding: “Half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester.” At Concordia, all freshmen are writing more than 20 pages in their first semester and in more than one class. And the emphasis on writing extends across their four-year curriculum.

Study finding: 45 percent of students showed “no significant improvement” from freshman to sophomore year in terms of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing. At Concordia, a comparison of freshmen and senior scores on the 2010 Collegiate Learning Assessment, the instrument used in the reported study, revealed that our students demonstrated significant improvement. In fact, Concordia seniors scored in the top 10 percent in the nation.

Study finding: “Social engagement does not help student performance.” At Concordia, collaborative learning that engages students and faculty in rich interaction is integral to academic achievement. From small-group service projects to side-by-side research with faculty and peers, students gain clear advantage for excelling in graduate school and career callings.

To illustrate, 88 percent of Concordia graduates applying to medical school were accepted last year along with 93 percent of applicants to law school. Concordia ranks in the top 12 percent of baccalaureate institutions in the number of research doctorates awarded between 1999-2008, and 96 percent of our 2008 graduates were either employed or pursuing further education within six months of graduation.

These examples reflect the experience of one college, but visit with students and faculty at institutions across our region and you are sure to be encouraged by numerous examples of academic achievement.

None of this is to suggest that we can afford to be complacent about ensuring a high-quality education. Success does not happen by accident. We must continually measure and evaluate our effectiveness as we challenge ourselves and our students to pursue ever higher standards of academic performance. A college education remains a critically important investment in our young people and the future of our region, nation and world. Many families are making tremendous sacrifices and banking on us to deliver lifetime value for their sons and daughters.

All of us in higher education are accountable. At Concordia, we will never take our mission for granted. Preparing highly competent leaders to be responsibly engaged in the world is a responsibility we take to heart every day.

Dovre is interim president of Concordia College, Moorhead.