Tuesday, January 31, 2012

College Students' Academic Performance and Success in the Transition to Adulthood

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article reports on a study of the relationship between students' cognitive-academic performance during college and their success in the transition to post-college life. The main findings, as summarized by the Chronicle, are as follows:

Graduates who scored in the bottom 20 percent on a test of critical thinking fared far more poorly on measures of employment and lifestyle when compared with those who scored in the top 20 percent. The test was the Collegiate Learning Assessment, or CLA, which was developed by the Council for Aid to Education.

The students scoring in the bottom quintile were three times more likely than those in the top quintile to be unemployed (9.6 percent compared with 3.1 percent), twice as likely to be living at home with parents (35 percent compared with 18 percent), and significantly more likely to have amassed credit-card debt (51 percent compared with 37 percent).

These findings do seem pretty compelling, especially the differences in unemployment rates. One caution, however, is that whenever the top and bottom 20% on some measure (in this case, the CLA) are compared on later attainments, we learn nothing about the 60% in the middle. The technical report of the study presents comparisons between three groups: top 20% on the CLA, middle 60%, and bottom 20%. (I would have preferred to see all five of the quintiles compared; i.e., the highest, second-highest, middle, second-lowest, and lowest 20%).

As seen in the technical report, on some outcomes the middle 60% on the CLA fared similarly to the top 20% (e.g., on likelihood of living at home after college and of being married or cohabiting), whereas on other measures the middle 60% more closely resembled the bottom 20% (e.g., on credit-card debt). (See Figures 3 and 6 of the technical report.)

I've written previously about the CLA and critical thinking, in another outlet, for readers seeking additional background.

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