College: Too Easy?

While preparing to submit my dissertation for committee review (and eventual defense), out comes some news and analysis that paints a sobering picture for anyone interested in a life of academe.
A new book indicts the system of higher education in the United States for failing to prepare many students for the rigors of modern adult life. Grade inflation is up, undergraduate studying is down – to an average of 12-14 hours a week.
Specifically called out as a pressing dilemma is an apparent systemic failure to impart critical thinking skills to college students. Associated commentary from the Chronicle of Higher Education puts a finer point on that:
The study suggests that we have overcomplicated the practice of higher education. It comes down to what it always has—deep engagement with complex ideas and texts, difficult and often solitary study, the discipline to write, revise, and write again. What students need most aren’t additional social opportunities and elaborate services. They need professors who assign a lot of reading and writing. Professors, in turn, need a structure of compensation and prestige that rewards a commitment to teaching.
From my own experience teaching undergraduate media studies courses, I’ve found myself increasing increasingly wrapping the material around the core development of critical thinking skills. It’s natural, challenging, and fun.
Then again, I’ve been lucky to have good teachers throughout my entire life. I learned the value of critical thinking before I turned ten; 30 years later, my advisor line-edited my dissertation. I wouldn’t have become the person I am today without the teachers I had.
It’s satisfying to know that my pedagogy is sound. Unfortunately, the economic pressures on today’s colleges and universities often compel administrators to pursue “strategic” educational goals that lead away from the fundamental functions of higher education.
No academic achievement should came easy; if it does, you’re doing it wrong. That goes for both teacher and student.