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Colleges at the Crossroads

Taking Sides on Contested Issues


Edited By Joseph L. DeVitis and Pietro A. Sasso

Focusing on crucial issues in higher education, this book challenges readers to go beyond taken-for-granted assumptions about America’s colleges and universities and instead critically examine important questions facing them in today’s troubled world. Each chapter presents divergent perspectives, that is, "pro" and "con" views, in the hope of stimulating reasoned dialogue among students, faculty, administrators, and the public at large. Readers will explore how internal factors in the academic community often interact with external social, economic, and political influences to produce conflictual results. They will see that academe is hardly value-neutral and inevitably political. This book urges them to transcend strident political persuasion and instead engage in the careful analysis needed to make colleges better.

The text provides in-depth appraisal of key topics of controversy: the purposes of higher education, liberal education, academic freedom, political correctness, tenure, shared governance, faculty workload, admissions tests, student learning, Greek life, the worth of college, equity and social justice, athletics, student entitlement, technology and distance instruction, and college amenities. The book will appeal to students, faculty, staff, and all those interested in the future of higher education. It is especially useful for courses in contemporary issues in higher education, foundations of higher education, higher education and society, college student development, and the organization and administration of higher education.

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17. Limited by Design? A Critical Sociohistorical Analysis of Postsecondary Learning Outcomes (Ezekiel Kimball / Juan Manuel Ruiz-Hau / Fermin Valle)


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17.  Limited by Design? A Critical Sociohistorical Analysis of Postsecondary Learning Outcomes


Limited by Design?

Policymakers, employers, and students alike expect that participation in postsecondary education will result in concrete learning outcomes that lead to both individual and collective good. Furthermore, higher education researchers have devoted a great deal of attention to this issue. As Renn and Reason (2013) have noted, research on learning outcomes has proliferated since the formalization of the field: in the roughly forty years prior to Feldman and Newcomb’s (1969) The Impact of College on Students, some 1,500 pieces on student learning in college were published. As noted in the first volume of How College Affects Students, the twenty-two-year period from 1967 to 1989 saw the production of roughly 2,600 studies of learning outcomes (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). The second volume, which covered a comparatively scant thirteen-year period, reviewed roughly the same number of studies (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). However, despite the widespread belief that postsecondary education results in learning outcomes and a wealth of empirical studies from which to draw, the evidence concerning student learning is decidedly mixed.

Students have been shown to realize domain-specific learning outcomes in their major field of study but have not appeared to gain significant content knowledge in other areas (Renn & Reason, 2013). Likewise, most studies have shown that students leave college with improved critical...

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